PARIS — Defense and free throws: One team had ’em in the second half, the other didn’t, and it made all the difference.

Mt. Blue players were 9-of-12 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter following a third quarter that saw Oxford Hills players miss all six of their attempts, and Eric Berry found the scoring touch he was missing in the opening half for the Cougars as they rebounded from a two-point halftime deficit to post a 52-37 victory over the Vikings on Tuesday night.

“The game would have been a one- or two-point game, we might have been ahead by two or three. Those free throws were the turning point of the game,” Oxford Hills coach Scott Graffam said. “I’m not going to blame the loss specifically on those, though. I think they’re a better team than we are at this point, but those were big in this particular game.”

Mt. Blue’s tenacious defense held Oxford Hills shooters to just nine points in the second half, four in the third quarter and another five in the fourth, while the Cougars put up 26 of their own.

“We figured out what kind of defense they were playing, and we just took it to them,” Berry said. “They had a zone, but they had one man stick on me the whole time, so when I came around, they’d double me and try to keep me away from the ball.”

“We took away their post presence (on defense), and we did a much better job stopping the dribble penetration of their point guard,” Mt. Blue coach Jim Bessey said.

And, Bessey said, when his team went to the line, the players made their shots.

“We have a handful of good foul shooters,” Bessey said. “Sometimes, you get the right guys at the line, and that makes it look better. In this case, we got the right guys shooting foul shots and they stepped up and made them.”

Things looked good for the home team early. The Vikings locked horns with the Cougars through the first half. After taking a 7-4 lead, Oxford Hills appeared to stumble. Mt. Blue went on an 11-1 run and built a seven-point lead late in the opening frame, only to watch as Derek Morin drilled a long 3 and Matt Beauchesne made a pair from the line to pull the Vikes back within two.

Oxford Hills kept running in the second, scoring 11 of the next 15 points and 15 of the next 21 to take its largest lead of the game at 28-21 with 1:39 remaining in the half.

But, like Oxford Hills did to Mt. Blue in the first quarter, the Cougars did to the Vikings in the second, closing with five in a row to pull within a pair at the half.

“We thought that, if we just worked our game and ran our tempo, we’d be OK in the second half,” Berry said.

Blake Hart hit his lone bucket of the night for Mt. Blue to open the third, a 3-pointer from the left wing, to put the Cougars ahead.

With Oxford Hills back on top by one at 32-31, Mt. Blue started to roll in the two-pointers, and the Vikings began missing from the line.

Berry also started to heat up. After hitting for just a pair of baskets in the first half, Berry scored 12 in the second half, including a pair of free throws in the fourth quarter.

“We were a little bit more patient in the second half,” Bessey said, “We looked for better quality shots. They did a good job on Berry in the first half. In the second half, he got his looks.”


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