OAKLAND — It took their best game of the season to unseat the league’s lone unbeaten team, and that’s exactly what the Messalonskee boys basketball team delivered Tuesday night.

Anchored by a double-double from junior center Merrick Smith and what Smith called the Eagles’ best defensive game of the year, Messalonskee handed Mt. Blue its first loss of the 2023-24 campaign with a 65-47 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference victory.

“This is the most important win we’ve had so far,” said Smith, who finished with a game-high 22 points and 11 rebounds. “I think it shows the rest of Class A North that we’re still a top team, we’re still where we think we should be. It was a big win for us.”

Messalonskee (9-4) used an 8-0 run to close the first quarter to provide some cushion out front, and then it was a steady dose of Smith inside to stake the Eagles out to a 31-18 lead midway through the second period.

Smith accounted for eight straight points, and the run was capped by Tyler Bernier’s rattle-around-the-rim 3-pointer. Bernier ended his night with 18 points, including three fourth-quarter free throws to clinch the Heal point-rich victory.

“Merrick Smith was the best player on the court, and we had no answer for him,” said Mt. Blue coach Troy Norton. “We didn’t play our best game, but there’s no excuses.”


“At the end of the day, it’s a team sport. It’s not all about what I can do,” Smith said. “To some degree, it’s still about me bringing 20 points a night. But I can’t score 20 points a night and have nobody else score and expect we’ll win the game. … I know what my teammates are capable of, so it’s about creating the shots they like and coming out with wins.”

Messalonskee’s Merrick Smith (11) looks to make a move while Mt. Blue’s Charles Stevens defends during a boys basketball game Tuesday in Oakland. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

The Cougars (12-1) got a 17-point effort from guard Evans Sterling, whose first field goal in the second quarter momentarily paused the game to celebrate the 1,000th point of his high school career.

But aside from the milestone moment, Mt. Blue had little else going for it on a night where it seemed like every push was met with resistance from Messalonskee.

“We had a whole week of practice to prep for them,” said Messalonskee coach Sam Smith. “Our bye was last Friday. It was like a football game. We had a full week to go through everything in the game plan to prepare for them. I credit our boys, they did a great job.”

Armed with a 10-point lead at halftime, 38-28, Messalonskee didn’t let up early in the third. The Eagles scored six of the quarter’s first eight points to keep Mt. Blue at arm’s length.

And when the Cougars whittled the deficit to eight points with Sterling’s old-fashioned three-point play midway through the quarter, it was Merrick Smith who answered with a field goal and a trio of free throws to ensure the hosts entered the final quarter with that 10-point lead still intact.


In the final quarter, the Cougars got as close as six (53-47) with 5:21 remaining, but once again the Eagles shoved back — holding Mt. Blue without a point the rest of the way.

“Something we’ve struggled with a lot this year is playing a full four quarters and having intensity the whole game,” Merrick Smith said. “I think we did a lot better with that tonight. I think that’s what ultimately led to the win.”

And, what led to there no longer being one team above the rest as the tournament season draws nearer.

“I told the guys in the locker room there’s nothing to hang your heads over when the other team just plays great,” Norton said. “Tonight was one of those nights where you just have to tip your cap and say, ‘They outplayed us.’”

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