It was a glimpse of the way high school basketball could be. With any luck, it was a look at the way it soon will be as well.

The two days after Christmas, the Maine Gold Rush Invitational Tournament took place at the Augusta Civic Center, with 19 of the 20 games — nine boys games, 10 girls games — featuring a distinct addition. For those games, there was a 30-second shot clock on the floor a few paces from the basket, a constant reminder that, at all moments of the game, time was now a factor.

It was a novelty — and it shouldn’t be. Shot clocks aren’t used in Maine high school basketball, and it’s time for that to change. Shot clocks improve the game, from start to finish, in ways both obvious and subtle. An eight-point lead with two minutes left, under the current rules, means stalling to protect the lead and a cue to fans to beat the traffic. With a shot clock, however, the game is far from over, and those fans are instead on the edges of their seats.

The clock’s effect isn’t limited to the endgame, however. Defenses that confound offenses get rewarded without the option for the ball to be kicked back out and reset. Teams with ball-handlers that think and act quickly have a greater advantage over those that don’t. Shot clocks breed urgency, efficiency, an ability to handle pressure, and a faster game.

And as coaches pointed out, that’s far from a bad thing.

“It’s kind of exciting,” Maranacook boys coach Rob Schmidt said. “I’d like to see it. I think Maine needs some excitement in basketball.”

Bringing the shot clock to the ACC was the idea of Bruce Hunt, a former coach in Nova Scotia, which uses shot clocks.

“The state has talked a long time about whether a shot clock should be put in place,” he said. “There are a lot of states that do it, so this gives an opportunity for coaches, fans and players to see how it really operates in a tournament situation.”

It was Hunt’s idea, but he quickly had backers.

“We introduced it to the coaches that attend our summer basketball camp, we said ‘This is what we’d like to do. What do you think?’ ” he said. “And everybody was fully on board and thought this would be a great idea to showcase it.”

Don’t believe him? Check out these reviews.

“I see it as a good thing. I like it,” Winthrop boys coach Todd MacArthur said. “It forces teams to actually play basketball and you have to make plays to win, rather than you can sit back and be tentative.”

“From a defensive standpoint, there’s some incentive to work really hard and to hold the other team to either a poor shot or no shot, ultimately,” Schmidt said. “There may be a little more adrenaline flowing if you’re looking at that clock.”

One of the strongest endorsements, however, came from Monmouth boys coach Wade Morrill. A shot clock would have some obstacles to clear, particularly financial ones, and as both a coach and the athletic director at Monmouth, Morrill is privy to both sides of the dilemma.

When it comes to the shot clock, however, Morrill couldn’t speak up fast enough.

“I’m all for it. I would love a shot clock in Maine high school basketball. It would just improve the overall level of play,” he said. “If it was up to me, there’d be one in every high school gym across the country tomorrow, because I think it adds that much to the game.”

A naysayer might think the clock would turn the game into an ugly, chaotic mess of off-balance heaves and air balls from 10 feet behind the 3-point line. But as the Gold Rush tournament demonstrated, the fit would be a seamless one. Teams look to push the ball and get good looks quickly anyway. In the Medomak Valley-Winthrop boys game, for instance, there were only three instances in the fourth quarter in which the 30-second clock got down to 10 seconds. When Hall-Dale played Monmouth, there were only five such instances in the second half until both teams subbed in reserves with Monmouth up 16 points with 2:41 to play.

Still, the shot clock managed to make its presence known. With Winthrop leading Medomak 47-46, the Ramblers had the ball with 22 seconds left … but only three ticks left on the shot clock. Beau Brooks had the ball in his hands, with the crowd counting down the seconds.

“I was like ‘I’ve got to take the shot, we don’t have time to reverse it,’ ” Brooks said. ” ‘I’ve just got to hit it.’ ”

Brooks’ shot from the right elbow caught nothing but net, putting Winthrop up 49-46. It was a clutch moment, and it sure beat the alternative.

“Normally if we’re up in the late game, we’ll run kind of a clock-staller, kind of get the ball moving, just to take off 40 (seconds) to a minute,” Brooks said. “With the shot clock, we weren’t allowed to do that.”

And that’s a good thing. What’s also a good thing is teams being forced to react to good defense. When Cony played Mt. Blue on Dec. 20, the Cougars on one series repeatedly denied the Rams entry, forcing them to kick the ball back out to point guard Simon McCormick and for McCormick to recalibrate the Cony offense.

It was the right, smart move by the Rams. But for the Cougars, they had nothing to show for their defensive intensity but time off the clock — which, had they been losing, would be a penalty of sorts.

A shot clock fixes that. It creates pressure, then forces players to adapt — and, in the process, improve.

“I think there’s a reason why the best players in the world have a shot clock,” Morrill said. “The kids that put the time in and understood basketball would gain even more of an advantage, and I feel those kids that put the time in should have the advantage.”

Well said. Now, if we can just do something about that dunking rule…

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM


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