LISBON — Jake Gentle delivers the same message to the players in the Lisbon Greyhounds’ huddle before every game.

“Be confident on defense. Be confident when you shoot. Be confident every play,” Gentle says.

The Greyhounds haven’t been this confident in nearly a decade. They’ve won seven in a row and are 9-5, already posting their most victories in a season since 2006.

One of the reasons for their turnaround is Gentle, who was hired to get a program that went 11-97 between the 2006-07 and 2011-12 seasons back on its feet. He had previously done the same thing with Lisbon’s girls’ program. The boys immediately improved from 1-17 the previous year to 5-13 in 2012-13.

Another reason Lisbon is on its way to its first tournament appearance since 2006 is senior guard Tucker Brannon, one of the most explosive guards in the Mountain Valley Conference.

Last season, much to everyone’s surprise, even Brannon’s, he emerged as one of the league’s best shooters, hitting nearly 50 percent of his attempts. He led the Greyhounds in scoring and earned second-team all-MVC honors

“I had never shot that well before, so I didn’t know I could. So it was kind of a surprise to me and all of my teammates,” he said.

Brannon went into this season thinking he would have to be even more productive for the Greyhounds to succeed. But with opposing defenses focused on slowing him down, he found himself forcing things.

“I started looking for shots and trying to create my own stuff as opposed to letting my teammates, who are very good at what they do, open it up and help me create,” he said.

Brannon learned a lot from his early struggles, but so did the Greyhounds.

Their early schedule was brutal, featuring the top four teams in the MVC — Dirigo, Boothbay, Spruce Mountain and Winthrop. They lost those four games on their way to a 2-5 start.

Rather than get discouraged and prepare themselves for another losing season, they built off the knowledge that they were able to keep those games close and were close to changing their course.

“It actually helped us, because we’re getting in there with these better teams and we’re hanging with them,” Brannon said.

The Greyhounds knew they could pick up some wins over the less talented teams in the conference, but they needed to prove to themselves that they could win the close games.

A four-point win over Wiscasset on Jan. 8 accomplished just that. They went on to win tight contests against Carrabec, Hall-Dale and Madison.

Lisbon has come a long way since winning one game Brannon’s freshman year.

“Everything’s different. The locker room. Practices are a lot different. Game days are a lot different,” Brannon said. “We’re a lot more organized. We’re a lot more focused. We’re focusing on defense a lot and pushing the ball.”

The Greyhounds take their cue from Brannon, feeding off his ability to score off the dribble and from the outside. But aside from a 28-point explosion in a 68-17 win over Mountain Valley last week, they haven’t been as dependent upon his scoring as in the past.

Jacob Johnston, Kendal Roy, Kyle Bourget and Johnny Yim have taken on more of the scoring load.

“Teams have to be accountable for those guys, especially Jacob on the inside,” Gentle said. “We have a better inside-out game, and that opens up a little more shooting for Tucker and opens up some penetration lanes for him.”

Averaging 12.5 points per game this season, Brannon still ranks among the top scorers in the conference and is also one of its top free throw shooters. He can score from virtually anywhere on the floor, even inside.

“He’s actually a really good low post player,” Gentle said. “He’s only 5-foot-11, but he’s got really good post moves. For the most part, we haven’t really utilized that that much.”

Brannon is also a vital part of the defense, leading the team in steals and communicating in the Greyhounds’ halfcourt zone.

He credited the back line of the defense, led by the 6-foot-5 Johnston and the 6-foot-6 Jacob Bremmer, with enhancing his aggressiveness on the perimeter.

“It allows us to play that first pass a little bit tougher because we know if we get beat, we’ve got the bigs down low,” he said.

Gentle has preached making tough defense a constant. It can make up for a lot of other woes that used to erode the Greyhounds’ confidence.

“Previously, we’d go long stretches (with mistakes),” Gentle said. “Now, we’re really focused on if we mess up, move on to the next play. Make up for it there. Avoiding the avalanche is very important.”

Defense usually gets the snowballs rolling in the Greyhounds’ favor, Brannon said. The numbers support him. On average, Lisbon has held opponents to less than 40 points per game during the winning streak.

“With our defense, one person makes a couple of plays and then everyone starts making plays,” said Brannon, who plans to attend Maine Maritime Academy to study marine engineering technology and play basketball. “That leads to easy offense.”

And even more confidence.

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