Colby’s Wallace Tucker (55) drives to the basket as he is defended by Bowdoin College’s Zavier Rucker (3) on Saturday at Colby College in Waterville.

WATERVILLE — For Bowdoin College senior Jack Simonds, beating Colby on Saturday afternoon was important not just because the Mules are Bowdoin’s fiercest rival, but for the implications the game had on the New England Small College Athletic Conference standings. Both teams entered Saturday’s game with a 1-2 conference record, and both knew there’s a big difference between 2-2 in league play and 1-3.

The Polar Bears led for most of the game, and held off Colby in the final seconds to take a 72-69 win at Wadsworth Gym. Bowdoin is now 10-5, and 2-2 in NESCAC play, while Colby is 12-5, and 1-3.

“It’s a huge win. Now we’re sitting at .500 around the middle of the NESCAC season. Hopefully we’re heading in the right direction,” Simonds, a Falmouth native, said.

Colby trailed by three points coming out of a timeout with 13.4 seconds left. Colby coach Damien Strahorn hoped to create an opening to get one of his 3-point shooters an open look in the corner, or failing that, a chance for big man Sean Gilmore to get an open look in the low post with some time left on the clock. Neither happened. The Polar Bears tough perimeter defense prevented the Mules from even getting a shot off.

“Obviously it wasn’t clean enough. Things didn’t work,” Strahorn said.

Added Simonds: “We were just switching everyone because they needed a three, and the guys who were out there just played tough and stayed in front of guys.”

Colby trailed the entire first half, took a brief 24 second lead early in the second, and spent the rest of the game playing catchup. The Mules retook the lead, 67-66, on a Matt Hanna three with 3:15 to play. Zavier Rucker’s basket as the shot clock wound down gave the Polar Bears the lead back, 68-67, with 1:36 left.

Sam Jefferson (17 points) hit a pair of free throws with 54.6 seconds left to give Colby a 69-68 lead. Hugh O’Neil’s layup with 31 seconds left gave Bowdoin the lead back for good, 70-69.

Colby’s Sean Gilmore (23) reacts after being called for a foul after what he thought was a clean block on Bowdoin’s Jack Simonds (22) on Saturday at Colby College in Waterville.

A Noah Tyson (14 points, 10 rebounds) 3-point try went in and out for Colby with 19 seconds left, and after getting fouled on the rebound, Bowdoin’s David Reynolds made a pair of free shots to give the Polar Bears a three-point cushion with 17 seconds to play.

Colby won the first meeting of these teams, 83-70 in Brunswick on November 29. The Polar Bears knew they had to play much better to win the rematch.

“Today, we focused on defense a lot. When we played them at home, they scored a lot of points on us. We were kind of lazy, giving up too many back doors and too many open threes,” Simonds said. “We really focused on defending the split screens well, which is a big part of their offense, and rebounding well.”

Colby played without junior guard Ronan Schwarz, who was out with a knee injury. The 6-foot-4 Schwarz was missed particularly on the defensive end against 6-6 Simonds (18 points) and 6-5 Reynolds (24 points).

“He brings an important athletic presence, helps us match up with their size,” Strahorn said.

While Colby made 13 3-pointers, the Mules were just 13 of 40, shooting 32.5 percent from behind the arc.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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