To pick up speed heading into the postseason, Cony boys basketball coach T.J. Maines realized the Rams’ best bet was to slow things down.

In some areas, at least. Cony’s pressure-based defense is still there, and the Rams still aren’t shy about hoisting up 3-pointers. But the bombs-away barrage from beyond the arc has calmed down, as has the whole-team substitutions that often made the Cony lineup an in-game revolving door.

“We’re still really aggressive on defense. The whole thing is we’re not subbing five guys every minute and doing all that stuff,” Maines said. “But I don’t think kids are playing any less hard, hopefully they’re playing a little bit smarter. And your best players are on the floor together for a little bit longer.”

It’s working. After slipping outside of the eight-team cut-off for the Class A North playoffs, Cony (11-5) has put itself back into the picture with a six-game winning streak, one that has largely coincided with moving away from an all-or-nothing scheme that made the Rams dangerous last year but inconsistent this season.

“Coach (Maines) is a smart man. He had to change that up a little, and they’ve gone on a run since that,” Gardiner coach Jason Cassidy said after Cony beat the Tigers 69-62 Monday. “You can’t take a kid like Jordan Roddy off the floor every two minutes, and they know that and (Maines) knows that. And they’ve got some good pieces there.”

Some of those pieces have been able to flourish with the more relaxed pace. Brian Stratton has become a solid scorer and good shot challenger, and Ian Bowers has become the team’s most consistent rebounder over the second half of the season.

The change in philosophy has also allowed sophomore guard Simon McCormick to spend more time on the court alongside Roddy, helping the two guards further build their rapport.

“It takes a little bit of pressure off of both of us,” Roddy said. “Now that we’re both in there, it takes a lot of pressure off both of us sharing the ball. I know I can trust him with the ball and he can trust me with the ball.”

“I think having Simon and Jordan together is a really good dynamic for us, because it’s hard to really contain both of them,” Maines said. “You might be able to double one of them, get the ball out of his hands, but now it’s going to the other guy and he can make stuff happen.”

Lately, McCormick has been making stuff happen, turning into more and more of a playmaker for the Rams. He had 17 points and hit four 3-pointers against Gardiner on Monday, scoring eight of those points in just over a minute and a half in the third to turn a 38-37 lead into a 46-38 advantage.

“If you want to cover Jordan 1-on-1 he’s going to get to the rim, because there are very few kids with the lateral foot speed to keep him in front,” Maines said. “And now that’s leaving Simon because his guy is often the guy who’s going to sink into that driving scene, and Simon’s getting open.”

• • •

It’s been a season spent entirely on the road for the Gardiner boys basketball team. And day after day of traveling to practices or playing home games in different towns might be taking a toll on the Tigers.

Cassidy acknowledged as much Monday after his team’s loss to Cony at the Augusta Civic Center, the Tigers’ fifth in a row, which came in a Gardiner “home” game despite the Rams’ familiarity with their hometown arena.

“The kids are working hard. I think you’re seeing the tolls of a lot of things throughout the season,” he said. “The kids had to play a home game at Cony High School tonight. They practice here in the summer, they run their camps here in the summer.”

Cassidy wasn’t complaining. The team has leaned on venues like the Civic Center, which has hosted seven of Gardiner’s games since a December storm rendered the school’s gym unusable for the season.

It just hasn’t been easy, though Cassidy said the onus is on his team to recover from its slump in time for the playoffs, a process the Tigers began with a 70-50 victory over Mt. Blue Wednesday.

“We need to find a way to win. We can’t think about stringing several together, until you win one you can’t win several,” he said Monday. “The kids come to work hard every day, it’s just not happening for us right now.”

• • •

Jack Jowett led Erskine in scoring Tuesday night in a win over MCI. But the junior guard knew his 21 points didn’t tell the whole story.

Jowett had some praise afterward for junior forwards Gavin Blanchard and Jacob Praul, who snatched away the rebounds from one Huskies miss after another and denied second-chance opportunities as the Eagles built their lead toward the 48-29 final. Blanchard, tenacious despite his 6-foot stature, and Praul, 6-3 and a recent addition to the starting lineup, led the team with nine boards apiece.

“(Gavin’s) not tall, but he’s strong. When he looks at team stats, he looks at rebounds, he doesn’t look at anything else, and that’s what we love about him,” Jowett said. “He just goes out there and he hustles his butt off, he gets back tips, steals, and just rebounds the ball.

“Praul is kind of getting into it, he’s new to the starting lineup so he’s starting to get into it, but for not having played a starting position for most of the year, it’s huge for him to be able to come out and do that for us.”

Jowett also credited the passing of point guard Braden Soule, who scored 13 points, and the aggressive defense of guards Sage Hapgood-Belanger and Chandler Moore.

“They’re always up top bugging the ball, and we love that. It brings the whole team up,” he said. “They might not score a lot of points, but if we didn’t have them on the team we wouldn’t be the same team.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM