AUGUSTA — The Winthrop High School boys basketball team could score 100 points in a game and win by 40. Doesn’t matter.

If the Ramblers get sloppy on the defensive end, they’re going to hear about it the next day.

“Every time we watch film I break down every defensive possession. I always point to what’s wrong with our defensive possession,” coach Todd MacArthur said. “They kind of laugh and they chuckle, and they know that film study’s going to be kind of negative at times, but they know they can learn from it.”

Looks like it’s sinking in. The Ramblers lost one of the state’s most dynamic scorers in Jacob Hickey after last year and responded by grabbing the second seed for the Class C South tournament, then starting that tourney journey by beating No. 7 Madison 49-38 in the quarterfinals on Monday.

On the way to both, Winthrop leaned on the same concept. MacArthur calls it “Rambler defense.” And his players have learned that if this postseason run is going to reach the later games, that’s going to have to be their ticket there.

“We focus mostly on defense in practice,” forward Ryan Baird said. “We try to put it into our gameplay and keep our intensity up. Just kind of force traps to steals to layups. Just keep everything going.”

“Rambler defense” isn’t based on a single schematic concept, be it full-court pressure like Cony’s or selling out to crash the boards. Rather, Winthrop defends by sticking to the “help the helper” principle — when one player moves, the rest of the players move. No one is left to fend for himself. To get to the basket, you’ve got to go through not one Rambler, but two. Or three. Or four.

“We’re always helping each other,” forward Sam Figueroa said. “We trust everybody. If somebody makes a mistake, pick them up.”

It’s not easy. With players constantly collapsing to areas on the floor, that leaves the rest of the offensive zone to account for. So the Winthrop players have to be aware and ready to move. And they’ve got to be on the same page.

“It’s five guys always helping out each other. One guy moves, another guy behind him moves, another guy behind him. It’s string theory,” MacArthur said. “I always talk about it being an engine. There are so many parts in an engine, and if one part’s off, the engine’s going to blow.”

The Ramblers make sure they’re solid around the basket, where Cam Wood and Figueroa are ready as a formidable last line of defense, but they’ll look to make plays too. Ball handlers can expect double teams when they cross halfcourt. And good luck dishing back out of the traps — Winthrop guards Jared McLaughlin and Beau Brooks leap at the chance to pick off passes and take them the other way.

“(MacArthur) always says when we need a stop, our defense will get a stop,” Figueroa said. “Get a steal, and it always leads to the offensive end.”

True to MacArthur’s word, whenever the Ramblers needed a stop Monday, they got one. Winthrop held Madison to 33 percent shooting in the first half en route to a 20-15 lead, kept the Bulldogs to 25 percent shooting in the fourth quarter with the game up for grabs, and held standout guard Sean Whalen to only four points in the first half.

In a game with low scoring, the Ramblers looked right at home. And when Madison did threaten late, cutting the gap to five at 35-30, McLaughlin was ready with a steal — one of his four, and Winthrop’s nine — and score to swing momentum back Winthrop’s way.

This is the way it’ll have to be. Hickey, a Mr. Maine basketball finalist a season ago, isn’t there to bail out a lackluster defense with 30 points, and neither is Garrett Tsouprake to give the Ramblers that trio along with Hickey and Wood that could score 70 points any given night.

This team will have to win ugly. And MacArthur is OK with that.

“If we’re going to go anywhere, it has to be with our defense. These kids know that, these kids buy in,” he said. “This team is getting it. And when they get it, they’re going to be special. They’re really going to be special.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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