WINTHROP — With his drive to the basket 54 seconds into the game on Wednesday night, Winthrop’s explosive junior Jacob Hickey doubled his scoring output from a loss to Dirigo at Augusta Civic Center in December.

On the comfort of the Ramblers’ home floor, given an opportunity for redemption in front of a packed, bipartisan crowd, there was much, much more to come.

Hickey scored 21 points, including dagger 3-pointers at the horn in the second and third quarters, then two free throws with 17.2 seconds remaining to seal a 49-42 MVC and Class C South victory.

“We worked in practice on getting me a little more open off the screens,” Hickey said. “I ran off the screens a little more tightly than I did the last game, and I think preparation in practice helped me do that.”

Winthrop (11-2) knocked Dirigo (12-1) from the unbeaten ranks, and the Ramblers also likely would lock up the No. 1 seed in the regional tournament if they win out.

Bennett Brooks and Spencer Steele each added 10 points for Winthrop. Brooks, Steele and Hickey went a combined 8-for-10 from the free-throw line in the final 1:57.

Even so, the Cougars nearly made an improbable rally. Down double digits with 1:15 to go, Dirigo clawed back to within three on a Riley Robinson 3-point play with 23 seconds left.

“One thing we feel good about is that’s as good as team as there is in Class C, and we played one of our worst games, and we still were able to gut it out and were one possession away with 20 seconds,” Dirigo coach Travis Magnusson said. “That’s a credit to our guys that we can play really bad and still be in a game because we did some good things defensively.”

Robinson finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals, fouling out on the play that sent Hickey to the line. Winthrop has held the Dirigo senior, who has 1,730 career points, to his two lowest-scoring games of the winter.

The Ramblers drew seven offensive fouls, with Hickey and Anthony Owens taking two charges apiece.

“Our defense is built on helping the helper. We always preach that. It’s based on trust,” Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur said. “There was trust tonight that, ‘If I go rotate, there’s going to be a guy behind me.’ Five guys rotating together, that’s what happens. We’re in the right spot. It means the difference between a charge and a block, and sometimes it makes all the difference in the world.”

The lead changed hands four times in the first quarter, with consecutive 3-pointers by Clay Swett in the final minute nudging Dirigo in front, 15-11.

Winthrop pulled even at 22 on a Hickey 3-pointer with 2:33 to go in the half. Robinson picked up his second foul on a team control call to end Dirigo’s next possession and went to the bench for the remainder of the period.

It fueled the Ramblers’ 14-2 finishing kick. Brooks threaded the needle to Steele with a bounce pass on a back door play that gave Winthrop the lead for good.

Swett’s drive made it 28-24 with 23 seconds to go before Nate Scott located Hickey for the first of his buzzer-beaters.

“The difference was Hickey. He didn’t have that much more space tonight, he just made some … tough shots. He made some college shots,” Magnusson said. “And Riley’s too valuable. He can play smart. We went from up two to down seven in a minute and a half. I probably should have just played him. Maybe we’re tied or up two going into the half, so that was a big swing.”

Winthrop shot 59 percent in the first half, with Dirigo at a scorching 67 percent despite a fistful of missed layups. The second half was nowhere near as efficient. Both teams wound up 17-for-39 (44 percent).

Six consecutive points — a deep 3-pointer by Gavin Hebert, plus a free throw and drive by Robinson — pushed Dirigo within five at 35-30 before Hickey’s bomb from the left corner to end the third.

“Jake’s a great player. Obviously he was disappointed with his performance in the last game, and he bounced back quite well,” MacArthur said. “I think both teams played great defense. We’re both great teams. We hang our hats on that. For my guys to do that to a team that has Riley, and has quality players around him, says a lot for my guys.”

The Cougars missed their first six shots to start the fourth period. The teams jointly endured a scoring drought of nearly five minutes until Brooks’ two free throws made it 43-32 with 1:57 to go.

Gavin Arsenault scored six points and made three steals to ignite Dirigo’s comeback bid.

“They’re a terrific team. They have been for a long time. It’s a good win for us. We played great defense. I think it showed,” Hickey said. “As a young team it’s good for us to get a win like this, and in a close game, too. We as a team I don’t think have ever been in this kind of big, big, big game, really close.”

Defending champion Dirigo won the first meeting 55-44, when Arsenault held Hickey without a field goal. The teams also split during the 2014-15 season.

“What a game. Great crowd. Their student section was into it. That’s how it’s supposed to be. A lot of passion from both sides,” Magnusson said. “It was an exciting game, and that’s what we need to get better. You don’t get any better winning by 30 points some nights, so that’s exactly what we need going into the tournament.”

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