WINTHROP — Defensive chemistry is always a staple for the Winthrop boys basketball team. Early in the season, however, it wasn’t there.

Coach Todd MacArthur had a feeling that was going to change.

“To create that continuity, what we call the string theory where we always move like we’re tied to a string and we want tight strings, it takes time,” he said. “The only way to go through it is constant reps, and the only way you can simulate reps is through practice and games. One of the things I love about our defensive system is usually, over the course of the year, it only gets better.”

That’s been the case this season. After starting the season 0-2, the Ramblers won eight of their next nine games, including a 71-35 victory over Richmond on Thursday that pushed their winning streak to five games.

Ian Steele led Winthrop with 15 points. Connor Vachon scored 17 for Richmond.

The Ramblers are clicking, and as always, defense has been a big reason why.

“It takes time and continuity to get better at it, and I feel confident that we’re getting much better at communicating with each other and trusting each other,” MacArthur said. “Overall, our half-court man defense has improved immensely.”

Winthrop’s Noah Grube, right, and Andrew Foster can’t block a pass by Richmond’s Will Miller during a game Thursday in Winthrop. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Winthrop’s defense relies on intensity, but it also depends on spatial awareness. It’s not enough just to guard a man or the ball; players have to know when to switch and when to slide over and help.

That awareness, as is often the case, wasn’t there early, and MacArthur said that was holding the Ramblers back as they scuffled out of the gate.

“Absolutely. With any group, there’s a growth process of who’s to your right, and who’s to your left,” he said. “It’s no different than a person going to work for the first time is learning new co-workers. You have to go through that with a team and your team members. You have to learn to communicate.”

The team showed the strides it has made since on Thursday. Winthrop’s defense overwhelmed the young and inexperienced Bobcats, helping the Ramblers jump out to 16-0 and 35-8 leads. The Ramblers made sure to pressure double-double candidate Calob Densmore, with a plan led by Noah Grube holding him to two points, and Gavin Perkins (six steals) led a ball-hawking perimeter defense that allowed Winthrop to pile up the transition points.

“We’ve improved incredibly. We’re starting to trust each other more and be there for each other, so when the string gets pulled we’re all going together instead of one person going, three people going,” Perkins said. “It’s got to be five people going, and that’s what we’re starting to get.”

MacArthur liked what he saw.

“Tonight was a good night, in terms of putting things together,” said MacArthur, who also got 10 points from Logan Baird and eight apiece from Perkins and Brayden Stubbert. “Our defense led to our transition, which helped the scoreboard situation quite a bit. When you can score 10 to 12, 15 points off transition, that’s a hard thing to deal with if you’re an opposing team.”

Winthrop had all the answers Thursday, but defense has also been a strength for its opponent. In Jason Cassidy’s first season at the helm, Richmond has seen its offense struggle at times to get going.

Defense, however, has been a constant for the Bobcats (2-7).

“We’ve been in some tough ball games that I think maybe people might not have thought we’d be in,” said Cassidy, who also got eight points from Hunter Mason. “The kids have really been playing spectacular defense, and holding scorers down to what we think we would do well with. Offensively, it becomes a struggle for us at times against the better defensive teams. It’s constant looking for improvement.”

That defense is a strength for Richmond makes sense. Cassidy praised the work ethic of his players, and defense is where hard work most directly pays off.

Winthrop’s Logan Baird intercepts a pass to Richmond’s Connor Vachon during a game Thursday in Winthrop. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

That was the case in an earlier game against Boothbay. The Bobcats lost, but limited the Seahawks to only 39 points.

“The kids really have been playing hard defense,” Cassidy said. “They’re holding some teams that can really score the basketball down a bit, and really building around that first. The offense will come. New system, new coach. We just really need to put some time in the offseason and make some of the offensive skills a priority.”

Richmond has had some one-sided losses — “There are some teams that just overpower us,” Cassidy said — but with Densmore inside and Andrew Vachon on the perimeter, the Bobcats usually have a good foundation each night.

“Some of the other teams that control the ball a little more, we’ve done well with those teams,” Cassidy said. “I think it’s just the desire to compete right now. Offense is a struggle, so they’ve really bought into the defensive side of the basketball.”

Richmond had its hands full with a Ramblers team that looked every bit a two-time defending champion.

“They just move the ball so well, and get you in tight on them and make you turn your head,” Cassidy said. “They caught us on our heels.”

It’s part of the learning process this season for Richmond, which has a strong piece for the future in Connor Vachon, who’s only a sophomore.

“We’ve got an awful lot of young guards,” Cassidy said. “They’ve never been the main scorer. … We’ve just got to make sure kids know it’s OK, that they can shoot that open jump shot.”

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