BLUE HILL — As his players and assistant coaches gathered at halftime, Dwayne Carter saw a chance for his team to put its regular season opener out of reach.
No, Carter’s George Stevens Academy boys’ basketball team hadn’t been the definition of consistent during the first half of Saturday’s game against Lee Academy, which had limited the Eagles to just six points in the second quarter. Still, the GSA head coach knew his team could make a Lee comeback difficult with a big second-half run, and he had an ideal time frame in mind.
“I told them, ‘The first three minutes, we’re going all out,’” Carter said. “We still had a lot of energy, and that’s what I wanted them to do.”
When the second half began, the Eagles gave their head coach exactly what he wanted; in just 3 minutes, 10 seconds, GSA scored 18 points to turn a surmountable lead into a commanding one en route to a 69-42 victory in Blue Hill.
GSA (1-0) took an early lead through Milos Sujica, whose two 3-pointers highlighted a strong offensive stretch for the home team early in the game. The Eagles then rode that momentum to a 24-point first quarter and took a nine-point lead into the second.
GSA’s defense held Lee Academy to seven points in the second quarter, but the Eagles failed to pull away as Sujica and Gadsby began dealing with foul trouble. With those two on the bench, the visiting Pandas stayed within striking distance and trailed just 30-22 as the two teams left the floor for halftime.
“In the second quarter, we just didn’t execute very well, and with a young team, we’re going to have those ups and downs a little bit,” Carter said. “We missed a lot of the shots we took inside because we were too low under the basket, and that’s a sign for us that we have to work on positioning better.”
Yet with GSA’s full starting lineup returning to the floor in the second half, the Eagles extended the lead to 20 points in the blink of an eye amidst their three-minute offensive onslaught. With Gadsby, Mattson, Sujica, Michael Moon and Teague Smallidge contributing on offense, the Eagles scored one basket after another while keeping the Lee Academy offense in check en route to a season-opening win.
Mattson finished with 21 points for the Eagles, and Sujica (14 points), Gadbsy (11 points) and Moon (10) joined him in double figures. Teague Smallidge (seven points), Austin Snow (three points) and Dexter Brown (two) rounded out the rest of the scoring.
“I would say we scored pretty evenly,” Mattson said. “We spread the ball around, and everyone was able to step up and do something when we needed it.”
Although Mattson led the team in scoring, Sujica, a 6-foot-3 exchange student from Serbia, had his share of moments in the spotlight. Between his early 3-pointers, full-court passes and overall tenacity on both ends of the floor, Sujica provided plenty for a GSA team Carter says is looking to find a “new identity” after graduating three key seniors and losing forward Andrew Szwez, who transferred to Bangor.
“He’s very smart and really sees the game,” Carter said. “Even though he’s just joining us, it seems like he’s played with us for a long time. He brings a new dimension, which we really needed.”
Playing in front of a packed gymnasium in Blue Hill was a new experience for Sujica, whose last name is pronounced “Shoe-YEET-za.” Although he had appeared for GSA in preseason action, a loud, white-out crowd set the stage for an atmosphere that wowed the senior in his first regular season game.
“It was so much fun,” Sujica said. “The crowd was great; I’ve never experienced anything like that before. I’m excited to get to play more games.”
In addition to praising Sujica and Mattson, Carter was also pleased with Gadsby, who made his first career start for the Eagles. After sitting out the entire second quarter, Gadsby came out refreshed in the second half as he highlighted GSA’s three-minute run with a string of four consecutive baskets.
GSA’s struggles were primarily limited to the second quarter as the early foul calls against Gadsby and Sujica resulted in both players sitting out the final minutes of the half. Yet that stretch of did provide a silver lining for the Eagles, who got to see some of their inexperienced bench players play meaningful minutes in a game situation.
“We’re trying to develop our bench because they’re young and have never played varsity,” Carter said. “It was a good experience for them, but with Gadsby and Milos out, we were down two big scorers. … That’s probably why we didn’t score so much in the second quarter.”
Yet even with one of their youngest squads in years, the expectations of hardware and playoff glory haven’t changed at GSA, which has now gone 83-6 since the start of the 2015-16 season. The Eagles will get a chance to add another tally to that win total when they play on the road against Deer Isle-Stonington (0-0) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10.
“It’s always our goal to compete for a championship and to go as far as we can,” Mattson said. “Hopefully, we can come home with some gold.”