AUGUSTA — With Heal points on the table and key contributors out, the Skowhegan Area High School boys basketball team needed a spark.

Marcus Christopher was happy to provide one.

Christopher was dominant inside, generating nearly half of the Indians’ scoring with 22 points and leading Skowhegan to a 47-38 victory over Gardiner on Friday at the Augusta Civic Center.

“All season, he has been a guy that we’ve had to count on for big games, and he’s been doing it all season,” Skowhegan coach Tom Nadeau said. “He’s had a really good year up to this point. He’s a smart kid, he works his tail off, and he’s reaping the benefits of being a hard worker.”

Skowhegan improved to 9-4. Gardiner fell to 6-6, missing a chance to grab some valuable Heal points against A North’s second-place team, which was without Cam Barnes and Matush Prokop.

“They had a couple of players out tonight, and you’ve got to get those games,” Tigers coach Jason Cassidy said. “We’re trying to stay up at the top of the pack. … We’ve got to refocus and find out what’s going to work for us.”

The Indians found a working plan early. Christopher’s 22 points led all scorers, and his 10 rebounds were a game high as well and came against the Tigers’ quality post tandem of Connor McGuire (12 points) and Ben Shaw.

“I knew they had quite a bit of size, and I was going to be probably matched up with McGuire. My goal was really to get in the lane, get him up in the air because I know he likes to block shots, and get some easier looks at the rim,” Christopher said. “It honestly makes me want to compete a little more, because I know it’s going to be a challenge. I love going against the best, it’s fun.”

Nadeau knew his 6-foot-4 junior wasn’t exactly going to be outmatched down low.

“He’s not a small kid himself,” he said. “He’s a good, strong player.”

Gardiner took its biggest lead with 2:24 to go in the first half on a McGuire 3-pointer that made it 17-13, but Skowhegan scored the final six points of the half, the final two coming on a Christopher step-through with two seconds to go that put the Indians ahead 19-17. He kept up the hot play in the third, scoring nine of the team’s 14 points and helping Skowhegan stave off Gardiner rally attempts. The Indians never trailed in the second half.

“We weren’t able to contain Christopher tonight. He played really well and just really picked them up,” Cassidy said. “When you spread the floor and score like that, you can play that style of basketball, and they executed it perfectly.”

The Tigers didn’t go quietly, however. Skowhegan opened up a 30-21 lead before a pair of Kyle Johnson (15 points, seven rebounds) baskets cut the gap to 33-27 by the start of the fourth, and Gardiner pulled within four three times in the final quarter.

Each time they’d pull close, however, the Tigers fell a basket or stop short of changing the complexion of the game. Back-to-back 3-pointers inside of three minutes to go, shots that would have narrowed the deficit to two points, rattled out and were pulled down by the Indians, and Cole Pierce (eight points) converted a tough layup through traffic on Skowhegan’s next trip down to extend the lead to 43-36 with 2:05 to play.

Four free throws from sophomore Carter Hunt in the final 1:26 iced the victory.

“I think it’s an offensive rebound here, a defensive rebound there,” said Cassidy, whose team missed its final four 3-point tries after a Cole Lawrence trey made it 41-36 with 4:04 left. “A deflection for a steal. … I felt like we were going to gain the momentum the whole way.”

“We got into a rhythm, but we let ourselves down defensively,” Johnson said. “That really ruined our momentum every time we started picking up the pace and getting into how we play the game. And shots weren’t falling, eventually.”

Kiel LaChapelle was a key defensive presence for Skowhegan with nine rebounds.

“At this point, every game’s big. … We’re both fighting for those top spots,” Nadeau said. “(It was) just gutsy. We didn’t quit, we continued to work, and they showed a lot of guts and a lot of pride.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM