WATERVILLE — Three years ago, Thomas had never beaten Colby in men’s basketball. Now, Thomas has a junior class that has never lost to Colby.
Not that any of those wins have been easy. The Terriers’ first two victories in the series were by a combined three points, and on Tuesday night, Thomas held on for an 88-83 victory at Larry Mahaney Gymnasium.
Thomas improved to 4-1 and went with its usual frenetic style. The Terriers used 13 players and only one was on the court for more than 26 minutes. Skowhegan graduate Levi Barnes led Thomas with 18 points in 20 minutes.
“Get the ball back so we can get another shot up — that’s kind of our thing,” said Thomas sophomore guard Eric Westbrooks, who had nine points and a team-high six rebounds and four assists. “Shots are bound to fall. The only way to win games is if you shoot. If you don’t shoot, you don’t score. If you don’t score, you don’t win games.”
The loss was another frustrating one for Colby. The Mules are 2-4 and those four losses are by a combined 16 points, including one in triple overtime. Colby out-rebounded the Terriers by 18, but also committed 11 more turnovers.
“The first six games of the year, we’ve had some really good moments,” Colby coach Damien Strahorn said. “We’re playing a lot of young guys and it takes time to figure out all the little things and all the toughness things that you have to do in order to win games at this level.”
Thomas senior guard Franklin Salvador, who scored 33 points in last year’s game against Colby, had eight on Tuesday. That wasn’t a factor because so many other Terriers made contributions here and there. Shaun Munson scored all 11 of his points in the first half to help Thomas to a 40-35 lead. Winslow grad Justin Murray, a freshman, hit two 3-pointers. Stanley Greene, Jr. had 13 points and hit some big free throws in the final minutes.
Mt. Blue grad Jordan Hoyt played only five minutes, but pitched in with three points, three rebounds and two assists.
“I thought Jordan Hoyt came in and gave us a great lift when it was a close game in the middle of the second half,” Thomas coach T.J. Maines said. “He hit a big 3, came up with a couple loose-ball rebounds, had a steal. I think that turned the game for us. Our guys saw what Jordan did and we just kind of fed off that as a group.”
While Thomas created a bunch of open 3-pointers and knocked down a good number of them, Colby was successful at working for close-range shots. Thomas didn’t play anyone over 6 foot 2, so the Mules went to Sam Willson (18 points), Patrick Stewart (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Chris Hudnut (seven points, 10 boards) — all of whom stand between 6-5 and 6-8.
Hoyt’s contributions came after Colby had ripped off nine consecutive points (on four layups and a free throw) to take a 51-50 lead. Within a span of 3 minutes and 18 seconds, Thomas had built a 65-53 lead. After the Mules clawed back within 68-65 with about six minutes to go, Barnes scored 10 points in 2 1/2 minutes to effectively finish off the win.
Interestingly, Colby had an all-freshman lineup on the floor in the final minutes, conceding some of its height advantage but getting a better match in quickness. It’s all part of the process of learning and finding the right combinations.
“The thing that I think gives this group a chance to be special is the fact that they come to work every day,” Strahorn said. “In the critical moment of those two, three, four, five possessions that turn a game one way or the other, we’ve got to be resilient enough to make those plays. That’s going to happen for this group and it’s just a matter of when.”
Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243