OAKLAND — For Cony on Saturday afternoon, it was a game of get ahead quickly and hold on.

The Rams built an early double-digit lead over Messalonskee by forcing turnovers, then sealed the game with another steal.

With 3.4 seconds left and Cony clinging to a three-point lead., Matt Murray flung his body on a loose ball and got a timeout. Liam Stokes followed with two clinching free throws, and Cony had a 66-61 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A boys basketball victory.

“We’re going to pressure pretty much everybody we play,” Cony coach T.J. Maines said. “That’s our identity. That how the kids want to play. That’s how I want to play.”

That identity also made Cony (4-2) about the worst opponent Messalonskee (3-3) could have encountered at this point in the schedule. The Eagles already had an overtime loss to Hampden on Tuesday and a seven-point setback to Edward Little on Thursday. For their third game in five days, they were greeted with Cony’s full-court pressure and fast-motion offense. Messalonskee committed nine turnovers in the first quarter, which ended with Cony on top, 17-6.

“Really, Cony, they want a hectic game,” Messalonskee coach Peter McLaughlin said. “T.J. does a phenomenal job with their pressure. They extend it full-court. It was more of just, take care of the basketball: Move it, pass it, don’t try to dribble through a trapping zone. We did, and we had the turnovers to prove it.”

For more than 11 minutes, the Rams — who have no one taller than 6 foot 2 — did as good as job as possible on Nick Mayo, Messalonskee’s 6-foot-7 star. Mayo had two points on three field goal attempts over the first 11 minutes, but an uncontested baseline dunk with 4:41 left in the second quarter sent him on his way, and he finished with game-high totals of 28 points and 15 rebounds.

“T.J. Cusick (a Cony junior forward), I thought, did a great job, and was wonderful going into transition,” Maines said. “(Nick) got going on transition rebounds. He ran the floor harder than we did, and we didn’t get a body to him that second quarter. You don’t really hold a guy like that down. You gotta try to disrupt him a little bit.”

Messalonskee had better luck bringing the ball upcourt after the first quarter, but still had trouble with Cony’s offense. Stokes shot 7 of 9 from the floor and 6 of 6 from the line for 20 points. Tyler Tardiff knocked down five 3-pointers for 15 points, and Ben Leet added 11.

Cony led 35-28 at halftime, and throughout the second half, the Rams treated Messalonskee like they were holding a $100 bill on a string. The Eagles repeatedly got close, only to have Cony lock the door when Messalonskee had a chance to go ahead. Mayo opened the third quarter with a three-point play to make it 35-31, but Leet and Tardiff hit back-to-back 3-pointers. Messalonskee charged back within 47-45, with Nathan Violette (13 points) capping an 8-2 run with a foul-line jumper. Cony answered with a three by Cusick, a steal in the backcourt, and a pass to Tardiff as the trailer for another three, and it was 53-45.

“Halfway through the third, they bang two threes to extend it back to eight in two possessions,” McLaughlin said. “We were just constantly fighting an uphill battle.”

With Cony ahead 56-49 in the fourth, Mayo brought the Eagles back with a three-point play and a tip-in, only to have Stokes toss in a pull-up jumper than banked in and regain Cony’s momentum.

The Rams were ahead 64-61 with 1:04 to play after two free throws by Murray. Messalonskee missed two 3-pointers that would have tied the game, but Murray was off on the front end of a one-and-one, and Messalonskee called timeout with the ball and 15.6 seconds left.

The Eagles clearly and naturally wanted to get the ball to Mayo, but as he fought his way through the crowd toward the top of the key, a pass to him hit Murray’s elbow and bounced into the backcourt. Murray dove under Mayo to get the ball and a timeout in front of the Cony bench. After the inbound play, Stokes made two free throws to clinch it.

“I didn’t even see the ball coming,” Murray said. “Just tipped it, saw it going out of bounds. First instinct was to dive on it, get the ball, get that win.”

“He switched out like we wanted to do, got his hand in the passing lane,” Maines said. “He and Mayo are nose-to-nose, and Matt’s the one who dove on the floor. It was just a big-time play. He’s worked his tail off, and he’s a great kid, and no one deserves that more to come out of here feeling good tonight about what he did to help us win.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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