BANGOR, Maine – Trailing by 11 late in the third quarter and struggling to get shots off against Houlton’s 2-3 zone, the Orono Red Riots knew it was time to up the tempo.
The team abandoned its man-to-man defense and switched to a full-court 1-3-1 zone, and it paid dividends. Orono went on a 27-13 run the rest of the way and stunned the defending state champion Shiretowners Friday night, 42-38, in the Eastern Maine Class C boys basketball semifinal at the Cross Insurance Center.
With the victory, the No. 7 Red Riots improved to 14-7 and moved into the championship game. They will take on the winner of Friday’s Calais-Central semifinal on Saturday at approximately 8:45 p.m.
Houlton, the No. 3 team, ended the season with a 16-4 mark.
“We were down big and knew that [switching into the 1-3-1] was the way to get back,” said sophomore forward Jake Koffman, who scored seven of his 11 points in the pivotal fourth quarter and also grabbed 11 rebounds to earn Darling’s/BDN Player of the Game honors.
Koffman said his team has struggled all season against a 2-3 zone, but that changed beginning late in the third with his team behind 25-14.
“We started attacked the gaps in their zone,” he said. “When we attacked and dished, that’s where we got easy layups or got to the line.”
“It all started with the defense,” Orono coach Jason Coleman said. “We weren’t taking the ball out of bounds. We were getting rebounds or steals and were getting downcourt before their zone got set.”
Houlton did manage to score six unanswered points on baskets by Christian Crane, Kyle Bouchard and Noah Holmes during a 1:12 stretch midway through the third to grab a 25-14 lead. But following a timeout, the Riots rallied to close out the period with a 7-2 run on a jumper in the lane by Nate Desisto, a layup by Keenan Collett and a conventional 3-point play courtesy of Damian Heeger.
Employing the 1-3-1 full-court zone at the beginning of the fourth, Orono’s rally continued. A driving layup by Collett cut it to 29-26, but Houlton scored six in a row to make it a nine-point game again with four minutes remaining.
Jackson Coutts’ 3-pointer ignited a 8-0 flurry to draw Orono to within a point and after the teams exchanged baskets and Crane went one of two from the foul line, Koffman scored on a putback with 34 seconds left to give the Red Riots the lead for the first time since early in the second quarter.
After Bouchard committed a player control foul on the Shires’ next possession, Damian Heeger drained a pair of free throws to make it a 3-point game. Bouchard missed a 3-point attempt with 10 seconds left and then committed his fifth personal foul.
Following a pair of misses from the foul line by Collett, Daniel Howe’s desperation three for the Shires with two seconds left fell short. A Desisto free throw with half a second left iced it.
“Orono hasn’t been to a semifinal since 1997, so with four sophomores in the starting lineup and down by 11 to the defending state champs, I couldn’t be prouder,” Coleman said.
The Riots did not commit a fourth-quarter turnover, compared to five by the Shires, who also went 1-for-5 from the line in the final period and 7-for-20 overall, while Orono hit six in a row at one point and was 7-for-11 as a team in the fourth.
For Orono, Desisto finished with nine points and Heeger, Coutts and Collett contributed six apiece.
Bouchard had 18 points, six rebounds and five assists in his final high school game to lead Houlton. Crane added 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and hauled in seven rebounds.