AUGUSTA — Cony and Gardiner rewarded fans who have been waiting nearly a decade for their rivalry to return to the hardwood with a classic Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference clash that wasn’t decided until the final buzzer Friday night.

Nijual Davis scored 17 points off the bench and Matt Murray scored five of his seven points in the final five minutes to help Cony squeak out a 54-52 boys basketball win in front of a raucous bipartisan crowd.

“Playing Gardiner is always a great rivalry, 100-something years. Playing them every time, any sport, it’s always a great game,” Murray said.

Jordan Roddy added 12 points for the Rams (2-1). Jordan Lamb led the Tigers (1-2) with 10 points, all in the second half, and seven rebounds.

T.J. Cusick’s 3-pointer put the Rams in front to stay, 49-46, with 4:35 to go. The Rams probably could have put the game away with better free throw shooting (14-for-27).

Camden Gregory kept Gardiner close with a 3-pointer with 1:27 left. Murray’s baseline drive with 46 seconds remaining made it a three-point game again and was the last field goal.

Free throws by Collin Foye and Gregory got Gardiner back within a point, 53-52, with six seconds left. The Tigers fouled Murray quickly, and he hit the first of two free throws with 5.3 seconds remaining to make it 54-52.

Lamb pulled down the miss on the second free throw and got it to Eli Fish. He passed to Gregory, who was smothered by Cony defenders at the 3-point arc and could only throw up a desperation shot that went wide as time expired.

Roddy, a slashing sophomore guard, sparked the Rams in the first quarter with seven points as they built a 12-5 lead.

“Last two games, we felt like he was taking it one dribble too far. He did exactly what we worked on as far as getting to his quick pull-up,” Maines said. “He’s a terrific athlete and a good basketball player, and it was nice to see him get off to a start like that.”

The Rams’ fullcourt pressure forced 15 turnovers in the first half. Davis got a layup off one steal and Roddy converted a three-point play off another to make it a 24-12 Cony late in the second quarter.

“We came into the game trying not to run with them and a couple of our guys were trying to run with them,” Gardiner coach Jason Cassidy said. “The older guys were just wound up. They were excited. They wanted to drive it down their throat and we can’t do that. We’ve got to play our game, not their game.”

Gardiner’s game is to get the ball inside to the 6-foot-4 Lamb, but his opportunities were virtually non-existent and he didn’t score a point in the first half. The Tigers’ perimeter shooters couldn’t pick up the slack in the first quarter, when they made one of eight shots.

“Coach talked in practice about running them off the line,” Murray said. “We know they’re good shooters. We made sure they put the ball on the floor and tried to make a play on the ground before they put up a shot.”

Instead, it was sophomore guards Connor McGuire, Isaiah Magee and Foye who got the Tigers back in the game. McGuire scored seven points in the second quarter and junior forward Hunter Chasse five as Gardiner shot 7-for-10 from the field to pull within 31-23 at the half.

“Their role guys played great and brought them back into it,” Maines said. “I thought we responded well at the end of the second quarter, but it was really poor of us to start the third. That’s something I’ve got to figure out because that’s the second game in a row that’s happened.”

Led by Foye, the Tigers did a good job of containing Roddy’s penetration and the Rams’ offense went stagnant in the third quarter.

Gardiner got Lamb more involved in its offense and started the period with a 9-0 run, capped by a Fish 3-pointer that gave the Tigers their first lead with 6:15 left in the third.

Davis answered with a 3 to put Cony back in front. He scored 10 of the Rams’ 11 points in the period, with Cusick, who was fouled at the buzzer, making one of two free throws to give them a 42-41 lead heading into the fourth.

“It’s just Coach Maines’ dribble-drive offense,” said Davis, who missed Thursday’s practice with strep throat. “Somebody drives and you fill to the top and just try to get open. We came out flat in the third quarter and we just made some open shots to get the game going.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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Twitter: @RAWmaterial33