AUGUSTA — The Skowhegan boys basketball team thought it could win. Then it knew it could.

Then Marcus Christopher helped turn that belief into a reality.

Christopher’s 28 points and exceptional two-way play helped the seventh-seeded Indians pull off a Class A North tournament shocker, beating No. 2 Hampden Academy 68-63 Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center.

“We just preached that we’re going into the game with nothing to lose,” Christopher said. “We’re not expected to win. We just go out there and play our hardest, and this is what it’s done for us.”

The Indians, who stunned the field for the second time in three years — they also beat No. 1 Medomak Valley as an eighth seed in 2017 — improved to 9-10 with the victory.

“It’s a different group of boys, other than Marcus. It’s just a special feeling, and to see the smiles on their faces, that’s the reason I coach,” said coach Tom Nadeau. “My mindset stayed the same the whole game. I thought that if we made plays, we’d be competitive.”

Hampden (14-5) got 27 points and seven rebounds from Bryce Lausier, who went 1-on-1 with Christopher down the stretch in a battle of two of A North’s best players. Michael Raye added 15 points and Ross Webb scored 13, but while the Broncos were galvanized by the return of center Marc Hutchings, who was hurt in a Jan. 9 car accident, they were hurt by the absence of guard Kory Winch, who was a starter before being dismissed from the team less than a week before the game.

“I thought Marcus’ play was phenomenal,” coach Russ Bartlett said. “I thought in the fourth quarter Bryce really showed how special a player he can be. When we needed him to step up, he was really able to score the ball. We just couldn’t get a stop when we needed to.”

Members of the Skowhegan boys basketball team celebrate after they ousted No. 2 Hampden in a Class A North quarterfinal game Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

A back-and-forth game that featured 14 lead changes through the first three quarters stood 56-48 Skowhegan with six minutes to play, but Lausier hit a 3-pointer and then converted a three-point play to narrow the gap to 2 at 56-54.

After a pair of Jimmy Reed free throws and a Kent Oliver putback kept the margin at 2, Christopher took command and set out to win the game from the line. He made one apiece on two trips to the stripe, with Matush Prokop putting back one of the misses for a 62-56 lead with 1:37 left.

Lausier hit two free throws of his own, but Christopher hit a pair on the next possession. Lausier then hit a three, making it 64-61 with 1:08 to go, but Christopher sank two more free throws on the next trip down to keep the Broncos at arm’s length with 54.7 seconds left.

“I just thought to myself, ‘This is what I’ve done for all these years,’ ” Christopher said. “These are the games that I live for.”

Nadeau said the game highlighted Christopher’s value to the team.

“He also guarded Lausier,” he said. “He does everything for us. I don’t know if we win a game without him. He does all the little things for us. I get on him pretty hard, he makes some mistakes here and there, and part of it is he’s exhausted. But he’s our leader, and he led this group well tonight.”

Hampden wasn’t finished, as a Lausier putback cut the gap to 3, but a Reed free throw put Skowhegan ahead 67-63 with 26 seconds left. Hampden turned it over on the next series when Andy Raye stepped out of bounds while setting up for a 3-pointer, and a final Christopher free throw sealed the outcome.

“It was crazy. The locker room was nuts after when we went in,” said Prokop, a junior and co-captain along with Christopher. “We knew from the beginning that we had a chance to win. We knew A was wide open this year.”

Still, the Broncos weren’t letting the underdogs pull too far ahead — until one of the Indians’ youngest players stepped up. Freshman Levi Obert hit three 3-pointers in under two minutes late in the third, turning a 42-41 Hampden lead with 3:07 to go into a 52-42 Skowhegan advantage with 1:00 to go.

“When Levi went on that stretch,” Prokop said, “that’s when I knew ‘This is happening right now.’ ”

The comfort was short-lived, as Lausier led the Broncos back to the brink of erasing the deficit.

“We realized the margin for error was real small,” Bartlett said. “Getting down 10, it took a lot of energy to get back.”

Bartlett said Winch’s absence was noticeable.

“Absolutely, I thought it had a big effect on the game,” he said. “It is what it is, it’s a tough situation. We had to handle it and we did. I don’t have any regrets, I just wish he could have gone to battle with us.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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