GARDINER — It’s early, but the Gardiner boys basketball team looks like a contender in the Class B division of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference this season.

Tuesday night, the Tigers used their depth and defensive intensity to pull away from Maranacook in the second half for a 76-44 win.

The visiting Black Bears led 23-17 at the end of the first quarter, but the momentum changed midway through the second period when 6-foot-7 junior Kyle Boucher picked up his third foul and went to the bench. Gardiner took a 37-30 lead at the half and Maranacook never recovered.

“We have such a deep team,” said Gardiner senior Jake Palmer, who scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “That’s one of the best parts of our team. Everyone gives 100 percent, and we all have great chemistry.”

Eight Gardiner players scored, led by senior Aaron Toman (21 points, nine rebounds). Point guard Justin Lovely added 10 points, while the bench contributed 18 points and a lot of energy.

“We were a little conservative in the first half, seeing how the fouls would go,” Gardiner coach Jason Cassidy said. “We didn’t let Toman be too aggressive. Once (Boucher) picked up his third foul, we let him take the big guy.”

The Black Bears came out hot. Sophomore Taylor Wilbur canned three 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes to help stake the Bears to a 26-24 lead. With the score tied at 28 and 4 minutes, 20 seconds left in the half, Boucher picked up his third foul.

“When you’re a shot blocker and you love blocking shots, you’re going to get called for fouls,” Maranacook coach Rob Schmidt said. “That’s something we’re really trying to cure.”

Boucher finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, but it wasn’t nearly enough. The Gardiner defense forced 25 turnovers and scored on 18 layups or putbacks. The Tigers pulled away midway through the third quarter with a 14-2 run in which Toman, Lovely and reserve guard Dennis Meehan each scored four points. And they controlled the boards.

“I think today was the best game, including summer and regular season, I’ve ever seen with the guards rebounding,” Palmer said.

Gardiner faces a big test Friday at Medomak Valley while Maranacook hosts Morse.

“There’s some real positive things going on with us,” Schmidt said. “The problem was when we started to tank we really tanked it.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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