A ‘pressing’ win
The Morse High School boys basketball team stood inside its huddle surrounding coach Todd Flaherty after giving away most of a 14-point first-half lead. The Shipbuilders had the look of a struggling squad and needed a change of strategy.
Coming out of the timeout, Morse began to press, a plan that worked perfectly as the Shipbuilders instead came away with a 64-50 victory over Belfast in a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B contest at Bath Middle School on Wednesday.
The victory gives Morse a 2-3 record, with a visit to Waterville slated for Friday at 2:30 p.m., while the visiting Lions dropped to 0-5.
Flaherty felt his team’s success came from pressing the issue on the defensive end. In the third quarter, the Shipbuilders forced 10 Belfast turnovers as Morse turned a 37- 36 lead into a 51-38 runaway in a matter of three minutes.
“We are a team that struggles in the half-court offense, and the press allows us to pick up the intensity and helps our offense with some easy baskets,” said Flaherty.
After a Ryan Rice putback drew the Lions within a point, Morse found its footing, with Matt Munster scoring six of his team-high 16 points in the third quarter. He drove to the basket twice after Kevin McKellar forced a pair of turnovers to give the Shipbuilders a 44-36 lead, and five quick points from D’Vaughn Myers upped the advantage to 13, forcing a third Belfast timeout in the quarter.
“Matt is a big guard for us, and he causes big matchup problems for opponents,” said Flaherty. “If you put a big guy on him, he uses his speed, and if you have a smaller player defending him, he is able to use his height.”
“We realized that we didn’t play very good defense in the first half, so we came out wanting to run a real good press,” said Munster, who added 11 rebounds, five steals and four assists to his totals. “For us, it’s important to run a good press and not allow easy baskets.”
Morse sprints ahead
The Shipbuilders quickly warmed up on their home court, taking an 18-10 lead after eight minutes. Munster had six points, with Ted Cole chipping in five, and a quick 6-0 run out of the gates in the second quarter, including Cole’s two free throws after a technical foul on Belfast coach Scott Benzie, made it a 24-10 game with 6:47 left in the half.
Belfast found its footing after the technical, using a 13-4 run to get to 28-23. The Lions kept coming, running off seven straight points to pull into a 30- 30 deadlock with 1:01 left in the frame.
Morse quickly regained the lead as Cole stepped back to hit a trey, and Cody Snyder’s runner sent the Shipbuilders to the half up 35-31.
“The technical changed our tempo in the wrong way,” said Flaherty. “We seemed to relax for three, four, five, six minutes, and we talked at halftime about getting our energy back.”
Belfast continued to struggle with the Morse press as the Shipbuilders pulled away, taking their largest lead, 61-46, with 2:32 remaining.
“This is an important win for us, knowing that we have stretches in our schedule where we should compete and have a chance of winning games, said Flaherty, whose team visits Maine Central Institute Jan. 3 before returning home against Nokomis Jan. 6. “I think if we play like this, we can challenge anyone the rest of the way.”
Morse shot 37 percent (26 of 69) from the floor and finished eight of 18 from the foul line. Cole chipped in 14 points, five rebounds and two assists, while Snyder had eight points and six steals. Myers added seven points, while McKellar pulled down five caroms and had four steals.
Rice paced Belfast with a game- high 18 points, with Emerson Dellamatera coming off the Lions’ bench to add eight points and five rebounds. Belfast was 20 of 56 (35 percent) from the field and eight of 12 at the line.