MADISON — A steal and layup with under 10 seconds to go Thursday night gave the Madison boys basketball team the lead. Coach Jason Furbush wanted to make sure that shot was the last.

Like any other coach in the Mountain Valley Conference over the past few years, Furbush is well aware of how scary the Dirigo Cougars can be when they let the ball fly. No good look in the waning seconds would be acceptable — and the only one Dirigo got would hit the ceiling.

Madison made three defensive stops following Deacon Murray’s steal and layup with 9.1 seconds to play to claim a 51-49 victory over Dirigo. The win avenged a season-ending loss for the Bulldogs in last year’s Class C South quarterfinals while handing the Cougars only their second loss in the past 33 games.

“We wanted to double (Nathaniel) Wainwright on the inbound because we didn’t want him shooting,” Furbush said. “They’ve got a couple of other players who can shoot the 3 well, so we really wanted to guard the 3-point line. Deacon got that nice steal and basket, and we finished it off. I’m proud of them.”

Murray had 15 points and five rebounds for Madison, which also got 11 points and five rebounds from Ethan Linkletter and 10 points and 11 rebounds from Nathan Cornforth. Wainwright led all scorers with 25 points for Dirigo, which also got eight points, five rebounds and three blocks from Travis Wright.

Madison’s Brode Strout (20) blocks a shot attempt by Dirigo’s Brady Philbrick (15) during Thursday’s boys basketball game in Madison. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

The teams combined for just six points over the first 5 1/2 minutes with Dirigo (5-1) holding a 4-2 lead. Wainwright and Linkletter would find offensive grooves over the final 2:25, though, with each player scoring seven points as the Cougars took an 11-8 lead into the second period.


Madison (6-0) seemed to slow Dirigo early in the second, tying the game for the first time at 15 apiece with just over three minutes left in the half. Yet the Cougars answered with an 8-1 run, highlighted by two Wainwright baskets and a Logan Timberlake 3-pointer, to lead 23-16 at the break.

“Basically, our halftime speech offensively was that we were too tentative in the first half, so coming into the third, I said, ‘Guys, we have to be aggressive,’” Furbush said. “We really played the perimeter more than we wanted to, and we had to be more aggressive in the second half and try to get to the hoop.”

That’s exactly how Madison got back into the game in the third quarter, making 10 shots from the line in the third as their aggression in the paint put Dirigo in foul trouble. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs did a better job guarding Wainwright, who was held to a lone free throw as the home team led 36-33 after three.

Yet Madison would never stretch its lead past five points, and Dirigo took a 49-48 lead with 45 seconds to play on a Travis Wright 3-pointer. With 11 seconds left, the Cougars pulled down a rebound as a Linkletter shot rimmed out, but Murray ripped the ball away and converted a layup to put the Bulldogs back in front.

“It was all about hard work and grit,” said Murray, who had 11 of his 15 points in the second half. “When the 3s aren’t hitting for us, we adjust and pound it inside and find other ways to make plays. We needed to make one there, and I was able to get it and score.”

Murray then stole the inbound pass with 6.9 seconds to play and made another free throw after a Dirigo foul. Although Linkletter failed to convert from the line with 1.1 seconds left after another steal on an inbound pass, the Cougars’ ensuing prayer at the buzzer failed to reach half-court.


The atmosphere in Al Veneziano Gymnasium was fitting for a back-and-forth game between two undefeated teams. Dirigo had plenty of support as it brought a sizable contingent from Dixfield, and Madison was backed by an enthusiastic student section of 40-50 fans — not bad for a school of 200.

“I like games like these where there’s so much energy,” Linkletter said. “The fans were into it, and it was loud, and I think it makes both teams better when you have a game like that and have the fans into it. It was a great game, and we were the ones who came out on top tonight.”

Winning in tight fashion is nothing new for Madison, which won by single digits for the fifth time in six games. The Bulldogs’ mettle in late-game situations shined here, driven in part, Linkletter said, by last year’s season-ending tournament defeat to the eventual state champion Cougars.

“It feels pretty good because we all remember getting beat last year in the playoffs by them,” Linkletter said. “You definitely have that revenge factor, but it just feels good to win and go to 6-0. We’re rolling right now, and it feels good.”

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