AUGUSTA — Back when his current collection of nine seniors were freshmen, Lawrence coach Mike McGee decided it would be the right group with which to end his coaching career.

The Bulldogs are trying to make it a long goodbye.

Lawrence extended its stay in the Eastern A tournament with a 49-41 semifinal win over No. 2 Edward Little Tuesday night at the Augusta Civic Center. The Bulldogs will face top-seeded and unbeaten Hampden Academy in the regional final on Friday night.

Mason Travers led Lawrence (16-4) with 14 points. Spencer Carey added 13 points and Xavier Lewis, the star of the team’s 67-53 win over the Red Eddies back on Jan. 11, finished with 12 points and six rebounds.

“This is a special group,” McGee said. “Are they hard-nosed or what? I told them, I’ve been there and  I want to take you there to experience because they’re just great kids. I love them. This is why I picked them to go out with.”

He picked one of the most tenacious defensive teams from a school that has made defense its trademark in 28 years under McGee’s direction. The Bulldogs limited EL’s inside opportunities and contested its outside shooters.

Sean Ford led EL (17-3) with 13 points before fouling out with 2:40 remaining. Nate  Alexander added 11 points and Quin Leary, the Maine Mr. Basketball semifinalist, finished with nine points and three blocked shots before he fouled out with 1:02 left.

Nick Noiles led the Bulldogs defensively. McGee assigned the senior forward to guard EL freshman Lew Jensen, who torched Messalonskee for 20 points on six 3-pointers in the quarterfinals. Not only did Noiles hold him scoreless, he nearly held him without a single shot.

“We’d seen enough of him shooting threes,” McGee said.

“(McGee told me) always have a hand up and don’t give him too much space,” Noiles said. “Our coach said that Edward Little runs off their 3-point shot, so only holding them to three 3-point shots the whole game was key for us.”

One of those 3-pointers, by Ford, pulled the Eddies within two, 32-30 early in the fourth quarter. But Ford picked up his fourth foul earlier in the quarter. Leary soon followed suit, and Adams had little choice but to keep them in.

“We had to play them because we needed some offense,” EL coach Mike Adams said.

Sensing an opening, the Bulldogs attacked, going on a 13-4 run, sparked by a Noiles putback off a Lewis 3-pointer miss.

Carey followed with back-to-back hoops, the last coming off a steal and an uncontested layup because Ford didn’t want to pick up a fifth foul. Noiles (eight points) made it 41-32 on a 3-pointer with 4:13 left.

“Once you miss four or five shots, or take four or five shots, you put yourself in a really tough spot, and that’s what we did,” Adams said.

Back-to-back layups by Travers increased the lead to  11 with three minutes left and essentially put the game away.

Lawrence set a deliberate pace in the first half. The Bulldogs’ patience didn’t necessarily result in an abundance of quality shots, but they kept the Eddies in check at the other end and took a 15-10 lead a Lewis jumper.

EL scored five straight to tie it, with Leary getting four of those on inside buckets. But Aaron Lafrance found a cutting Lewis underneath for a layup just before the buzzer to give Lawrence a 17-15 lead at intermission.

Adams reluctantly extended Edward Little’s defense to full court in the second half to try to increase the tempo. But the change only played into the hands of  the veteran Bulldogs.

“We had to press a little bit more than we wanted to, and that created more offense for them,” Adams said.

Lawrence shot 12-for-16 from the floor in the second half.

 “We were struggling in our halfcourt. They went fullcourt and I thought that opened things up for us,” McGee said.


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