AUGUSTA – With each big play by Alex Gallant, the Bangor student body would begin chanting “Mr. Basketball.”

As one of the semifinalists for Maine’s top honor in boys’ basketball, the senior got plenty of campaigning done in Friday’s Eastern A championship game. With the game tied late in the third quarter, Gallant took over, scoring 18 points in the final 12 minutes to lead Bangor to a 53-36 win over Messalonskee.

“It was a lack of focus on our part,” Gallant said of an Eagle surge that allowed them to tie the game in the third quarter. “We had a couple of turnovers we shouldn’t have had that allowed them to get the ball. We realized that we valued the ball that much more. This could have been our last game. So we buckled down and just executed our plays.”

Gallant finished with a game-high 24 points and outscored the Eagles in the second half 18-17. Ryan Weston added eight for the Rams (20-1).

Bangor returns to the state game for the first time since winning in 2003.

Gallant scored eight points during a 12-0 run in the final 1:28 of the third quarter, which turned a 31-31 tie into a 43-31 game entering the final quarter. Messalonskee got within 43-34, but Gallant had 10 points in the final quarter and helped build the lead to 17 points.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times,” said Messalonskee coach Tom Hill. “They got a couple of easy baskets on us. Alex Gallant took over the second half. We got worn down and didn’t have a matchup for him.”

The Eagles were down by as many as eight in the first half but had rallied in the third to tie it at 31-31 when Messalonskee forced some turnovers. A 3-pointer by Ben Dubois and a three-point play by Matt Natole helped cut it to 29-27. After a Bangor basket off a press breaker by Sam Chase, Dubois hit a jumper and Natole put back a rebound to tie the game with 2:38 left.

Eric Taylor finished with 14 for Messalonskee while Natole added nine.

The Eagles momentum didn’t last long. Gallant answered with a three-point play and then hit a jumper for a quick five-point lead. Messalonskee missed a pair of shots and committed two turnovers in the final minute of the third quarter. After a Ryan Weston basket, Bill Zolper and Gallant scored on fast breaks to end the quarter.

“We turned the ball over too much and didn’t get many quality shots during that stretch,” said Hill, whose team shot 2-for-10 in the final quarter. “They got some easy baskets, and it just snowballed.”

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