AUGUSTA — It looked like it would be a tough night. That the Winthrop boys basketball team could be in trouble. And that the Ramblers may have run into a team that could do what they do, as well as they do it.

But looks can be deceiving. As it turned out, game No. 20 for Winthrop ended up looking a whole lot like the first 19.

The top-seeded Ramblers withstood an early challenge from fourth-seeded North Yarmouth Academy to rout the Panthers, 52-29, in the C South semifinals at the Augusta Civic Center.

It’s back to the South final for Winthrop, where it will play No. 3 Madison Saturday night, and where its season ended a season ago in a loss to Waynflete.

“We played really good defense. Anybody that knows us knows that’s our trademark,” coach Todd MacArthur said. “We really came and we really got up and we angled the ball to where it needed to go. Fortunately we played good ‘D,’ because I don’t think we played great offense.”

Jacob Hickey scored 15 points to lead the Ramblers (20-0), while Cam Wood had 14, nine coming in the first half.

“It feels great, obviously, to get a chance to play for a state championship game,” Wood said. “Who doesn’t want to do that?”

That trip to the final wasn’t without its tense moments, particularly in the first quarter when NYA (14-6) came prepared with a frantic defense that pressured the perimeter, taking away looks that have been there all season for Hickey and his sharpshooting teammates. On offense, the Panthers relied almost entirely on 6-foot-3 forward Te’Andre King, who scored his team’s first 11 points, 19 of its 29 for the game and used his physicality and athleticism down low to present a challenge for the Winthrop interior.

Enter Wood. With outside chances hard to come by, the 6-foot-8 sophomore battled the NYA freshman, finishing off feeds into the post and cleaning up misses to help Winthrop turn what was a 10-9 game after one quarter into a 26-11 halftime lead.

“In the beginning of the game, I had to step up a little,” Wood said. “Jacob wasn’t scoring as much, I was getting the ball. … (King’s) a good player, he’s really athletic, can jump. You’ve just got to box him out, get the boards over him and finish strong.”

It’s an element of Winthrop’s game that can go overshadowed when Hickey, Nate LeBlanc, Jared McLaughlin and Bennett Brooks are hitting 3-pointers, but MacArthur said involving the power game became a key part of the gameplan entering the semifinals.

“That’s one of the things we discussed (Wednesday) and the day before. As well as we played in the first-round game, I didn’t think we had enough points from our bigs,” MacArthur said. “We were talking about how to enter the ball to the post. It’s an area of concern, it’s an area of focus for us, in terms of doing something better.”

After shutting down the NYA offense with the 16-2 run in the second quarter, the Ramblers didn’t let the Panthers off the hook in the second half. Hickey, who scored eight points from the free-throw line in the second quarter, hit a pair of jumpers, McLaughlin hit back-to-back 3-pointers and the Ramblers were rolling with a 41-19 lead after three quarters.

King scored six points in the third quarter but NYA’s lack of depth began to show, as the Panthers didn’t get a point from anyone besides he or Jake Malcom (eight points) until 3:08 remained in the game.

“I was really proud of our defense. That is a staple of our program, that highlights what we’re about,” MacArthur said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them on that side of the ball.”

It added up to another trip to the South sectional final, where MacArthur had been hoping his team would wind up since the season began.

“That’s what we’re here for,” he said. “When the dust settled, if one were to forecast it, it would have been Madison-us. This is part of our goal. I couldn’t be happier for our kids.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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