WATERVILLE — For years, the battle of men’s college basketball in Waterville was worth watching only if you wanted to study the difference between a good program and one that wasn’t there yet.

Now, it’s as even as can be.

After being No. 2 in a two-team town for so long, Thomas defeated Colby last December to improve its all-time record against the Mules to 1-17. On Tuesday night, the Terriers did it again, holding on for a thrilling 81-79 victory at Wadsworth Gymnasium.

In some ways, the game was almost a replay of last year’s Thomas win. That was by a score of 81-80, and both games came down to the last possession. The big difference in this one was that Thomas controlled the first 24 minutes.

“We’ve been in that situation a few times already,” said Thomas sophomore guard Franklin Salvador, who scored a game-high 33 points and added seven assists. “We’ve been down, we’ve been up, and we let up the lead. Today we maintained it, and we actually finished it.”

Thomas (4-3) spotted Colby a 6-0 lead but led by as many as 13 in the first half before settling for a 41-33 lead at halftime after late 3-pointers by Salvador and Jarrad DeVaughn (14 points in 21 minutes).

With DeVaughn, a DIII News honorable mention preseason All-American, hobbled by what coach T.J. Maines called “a bum knee,” Thomas needed other people to be consistent offensive threats. On this night, it was Salvador, who hit five 3-pointers during the first half, including four in a two-minute span as Thomas went from down 10-7 to ahead 21-10.

“I had great looks today,” Salvador said. “My team passed me the ball when I was open. I took the shots that I thought were needed.”

“He’s not shooting them from 20 feet. He’ll step out and shoot them from 24,” said Colby coach Damien Strahorn, whose team is 3-3. “I felt like in the first half we were switching through some of the actions, and we didn’t quite step up hard enough on him.”

The Terriers also committed only two turnovers in the first half, none in the final 11 minutes. While some of that was because Thomas often took shots six seconds into a possession, it also helped balance Colby’s massive (59-33) advantage on the boards.

Thomas started the second half on a 15-3 run and led 56-36 with 16 minutes left after back-to-back 3-pointers by Salvador, who would go on to shoot 9 of 14 from long range. At that point, the score was a shock, as Thomas teams don’t come into Colby’s gym and win by 20.

“To do that would be beyond what we’re looking for,” said Maines, a Colby grad. “We wanted to come in and compete and show that we could play with the best teams in Maine, and Colby has been one of the best programs in Maine forever.”

At that point, Thomas had a lapse, and the Mules started clicking. While the Terriers forced shots and got out of their flow, Colby established its inside-outside game. Freshman Connor O’Neil (19 points, 10 rebounds) knocked down four threes. Ben Foreman added 17 points and three 3-pointers, and Eric Beaulieu struck for 14 points, mostly on passes from Jonathan Kalin, who had nine assists.

“For us, in the second half, I thought we were really able to play through that initial pressure and get into our actions,” Strahorn said. “But with Salvador making some of those deep threes and really having a terrific game, it was just a little bit too much to overcome.”

Down 79-72 with under four minutes left, Colby made its last move. Thomas turned over the ball twice and missed three straight free throws. After a runner and a 3-pointer by Kalin, Colby was within two, and the Mules tied it at 79 with 2:17 left when Beaulieu cut to the basket and got a perfect slip pass from Kalin for the layup.

Colby had three shots to take the lead but never did. With 45 seconds left, DeVaughn hit the winning basket on a drive to the hoop. After the Mules missed two shots, Thomas center Martin Cleveland (15 points, seven rebounds) made a great block-out to let the ball go out of bounds. But when Thomas missed a free throw with 8.3 seconds left, Colby had a final chance.

Kalin got the rebound, and the Mules rushed upcourt and got a 2-on-2 break. Senior Kyle Donovan (eight points, 12 rebounds) passed up a shot to try to get the ball to Foreman, who is averaging more than 20 points per game. The pass bounced off of a Thomas player, and the Mules never got to shoot.

“I thought Kyle had a chance to make a play in an advantage situation,” Strahorn said. “So I didn’t feel like taking a timeout and allowing them to set their defense was the right call.”

For the second straight year, Colby had a loss that could easily have been a win. But a loss in this one probably would have been much tougher for Thomas to handle.

“We could have given in and didn’t at all,” Maines said. “We’ve got some older guys who have been here before, who play with poise.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

 

USM 77, UMF 61:  Brandon Tomah scored 18 of his game-high 21 points in the opening half as the Huskies overcame an early double-digit deficit to down the host Beavers.

Alex Kee and Chris Pagentine scored 13 potins each for USM (6-2) while Maranacook graduate Ben Johnson led UMF (2-4) with 15 points and 10 rebounds and Pet Sumner added 15 points.

Women’s basketball

UNE 70, Colby 63, OT: Nokomis graduate Kelley Paradis scored a game-high 26 points as the University of New England upset 14th-ranked Colby in Waterville. Beth Suggs added 15 points and 17 rebounds for the Nor’easters while teammate Lauren Rousseau scored 14.

Diana Manduca paced the Mules with 21 points while Aarika Ritchie scored 15 and Cony graduate Rachel Mack grabbed 10 rebounds.

Both teams are 5-1.

Bates 112, Thomas 47: Sophomore meredith Kelly scored 21 points to lead the Bobcats to the nonconference win in Lewiston.

Lauren Dobish, Kelsey Flahety and Hilary Throckmorton scored 11 each for Bates (5-1) while Allaina Murphy added 10.

Karin Bird scored a game-high 23 points for Thomas (1-6), while Elizabeth Goodall scored 15.