AUBURN – University of Maine assistant basketball coach Chris Markwood dropped by Tuesday night’s KVAC tilt between Cony and Edward Little to check out future Black Bear Troy Barnies. And while he had to be salivating over the thought of the 6-foot-7 EL star wearing blue-and-white next season, the former standout guard from Maine and South Portland had to appreciate what he saw from the Red Eddies’ backcourt, too.

Unbeaten EL battled back from an anemic first half to fight off the pesky Rams, 49-38. Barnies scored 15 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, but the difference was the job he did defensively on Cony’s leading scorer, Andrew Pullen, and the aggressiveness of EL’s guards at both ends of the floor in the second half.

“Our guards, Kyle (Philbrook) and Eric (Prue) and Ben and Josh Martin and Mukhtar (Sharif) did a great job defensively pressuring the basketball,” EL coach Mike Adams said.

“Basically, we just wanted to get up in the passing lanes,” said Eddies’ junior guard Ben Hartnett. “We wanted to get up on them tight because we knew with our guards quickness that we could keep them in front of us, and once they picked up the dribble, we knew we just had to get up and deny it.”

Cony (11-4) controlled the tempo and the boards in the first half, holding the Eddies to 30 percent shooting. Cony’s John DeMerchant did a good job defensively on Barnies (four first-half points), despite giving up seven inches to him. But the Rams didn’t take their largest lead until a Jon Turner putback made it 27-22 with 2:25 to go in the third quarter.

EL’s tight perimeter pressure made it difficult for the Rams to get the ball inside to Pullen (six points) and Chris Thurston (14 points, 12 rebounds, but just one point in the final 12 minutes), and they would score just one more field goal over the next eight minutes.

“When they stepped up with that halfcourt pressure, I think we took some short shots that were quick possessions (which led to) quick rebounds and let them go the other way a little bit and gave them momentum,” said Cony coach Bruce Hunt, whose team shot just 31 percent from the floor in the second half.

“That just gave us more momentum and more confidence once we started playing defense better,” said Hartnett, who finished with seven points and five boards. “It got us back into the flow of the game. We just started making better decisions and playing more as a team.”

EL (15-0) scored the final seven points of the third quarter, capped by a Josh Martin bank shot with three seconds left that put them in front for good.

The Red Eddies then took control with a 12-3 run to start the fourth quarter. Barnies sparked it with a pull-up 3-pointer that made it 32-28, then sent the EL partisans into a frenzy when he stripped the ball at the top of the 3-point arc at Cony’s end, dribbled the length of the floor down the left side and powered a tomahawk dunk over a Ram defender for a 38-30 advantage.

Philbrook (10 points, eight rebounds) capped the run with a drive down the lane that put the lead into double digits with 2:34 left. Pullen, a 6-foot-6 junior, scored twice in the span of 30 seconds, but it was too little, too late.

Barnies finished with nine rebounds and three blocks.

“We have respect for Andrew. We think he’s one of the best players in the conference,” Adams said. “We know that if you put Troy on him, there’s a possibility for foul trouble, but Troy did a great job of putting himself in position where he didn’t have to get into foul trouble by denying the pass (into the post), and again, with the guards putting pressure on the ball, they couldn’t get it into him quick enough.

“The thing that people don’t appreciate about Troy is he can get it done at the defensive end,” Hunt said. “I thought we altered a lot of shots tonight that we normally don’t do because of him. Andrew Pullen has averaged 18 points a game, and obviously Troy did the job on him. He’s a complete player.”

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