WATERVILLE — Revenge isn’t the most noble motivator, but it can certainly be effective. Such was the case for the Messalonskee High School boys basketball team on Thursday night at Waterville.

Since losing to Waterville on Dec. 30, Messalonskee coach Peter McLaughlin has used that game to prod his team to play better. In Thursday’s rematch, the Eagles played one of their best games of the regular season, taking a 68-37 win.

“I think the guys are more sick of listening to it than probably I am. It gave me a pedestal to stand on and motivate them for the rest of the year,” McLaughlin said.

The game was the regular season finale for both teams. Messalonskee goes into the playoffs with a 13-5 record and the No. 4 seed in Class A North. Waterville (5-13) will be the No. 9 seed in Class A North, and will play a preliminary round game at No. 8 Skowhegan (9-9) next week. That means the Purple Panthers will have to forget this one quickly.

“I think (Messalonskee) probably had this one circled because of what happened over Christmas break,” Waterville coach Nick Pelotte said. “They took it to us.”

A buzzer-beating 3-pointer by James Lathrop gave Messalonskee a 34-25 lead at the half. The Eagles pulled away in the third quarter, outscoring Waterville 19-5 in the frame.

“I think we shot pretty well. I was really happy with our ball movement. We took high percentage shots,” McLaughlin said.

As well as the Eagles shot, it was at the defensive end where they really shined. Using an aggressive trap, Messalonskee helped force 23 Waterville turnovers, 19 in the pivotal second and third quarters. Much of Messalonskee’s defensive attention was focused on Waterville point guard Devin Labrun, who throughout the game was smothered by two defenders as soon as he crossed midcourt.

“We just didn’t do a great job maintaining our composure. They played great defense all night. Where they were trapping, we just kind of bought into it,” Pelotte said. “They were forcing the basketball into that one pass away (from the basket), and we just kept throwing it there. Had we taken our time a little more, or maybe thrown a pass fake, we would’ve got a layup a few different times.”

Aside from the first quarter, in which Waterville was able to drive the lane for easy baskets, the Eagles’ defense was strong and held the Panthers to 12 points in the second half.

“I thought we allowed them to penetrate too easily. I thought they were getting to seams in that first quarter. We decided to pick up the intensity and extend it a little bit more,” McLaughlin said.

Lathrop scored a game-high 27 points for Messalonskee. Early in the game, the 6-foot-5 Lathrop was a force in the low post. Later, he found his outside touch, making four 3-pointers. Nathan Violette added 19 points for the Eagles.

Adam Barre led Waterville with 12 points, while Justin Kornsey added 10.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM