BAR HARBOR — Justin Norwood has been quick to credit the Mount Desert Island boys’ basketball team’s winning ways in recent years to the program’s accomplished players. It’s how his groups have embraced their identities, though, that has yielded those results.
After riding a seasoned and talented senior class to a Gold Ball with a balanced approach in 2016-17, MDI turned to 3-point shooting and defense last season to finish as runner-up in Class B North. Although this year’s Trojans are eyeing another run come tournament time, the team’s head coach knows it must find its own ethos if it wants to bring home another set of hardware.
“Right now, we’re still trying to discover our identity as a team,” Norwood said. “That makes it really hard, especially when you’re just getting into the season and haven’t had a lot of time to sort things out just yet.”
Fortunately for Norwood, he and MDI have plenty of time to do that sorting out as the season progresses. When that epiphany does come, the evidence from the team’s first regular season game suggests another championship-caliber unit could be set to emerge in Bar Harbor.
MDI used a strong offensive showing and survived a late fourth-quarter run by visiting Old Town on Saturday to start the 2018-19 season with a 72-66 win. Five players finished in double figures for the Trojans, who never trailed in the game.
“I think this was an OK start,” said MDI senior Derek Collin. “Old Town came in here and played a great game, but whenever we needed a big play, we got it.”
The Trojans got off to a strong start just six seconds into the game when Collin got his own rebound following a missed jumpshot and converted a layup to give MDI the first points of the game. After the home team took a 10-4 lead, Dom Mitchell responded with a spree of early baskets for Old Town, which trailed 20-15 at the end of the first quarter.
Old Town’s Shawn Hoogterp then nailed a 3-pointer to cut MDI’s lead to two before Eli Parady gave the Trojans (1-0) a little more breathing room with five straight points. With MDI leading 36-30 in the final minute of the half, senior Brett Duley made a deep 3-pointer to stretch the advantage to nine points going into halftime.
Just as they had done in the second quarter, the Coyotes (0-1) narrowed MDI’s lead to a single possession to begin the third when they cut it to 43-40. Yet the Trojans responded with a dominant stretch from Collin, who scored 11 consecutive points to give his team its largest lead of the day at 54-40.
“[Derek] is just an animal,” Norwood said. “He’s relentless in everything he does out there on the floor. I would never want to be the guy guarding him.”
Despite facing its largest deficit of the game, Old Town was able to close the gap on MDI once again. Sparked by 3-pointers from Hoogterp and Colby Archer, the Coyotes went on a run that whittled the Trojans’ lead to 68-65 with two minutes left to play.
With the visitors threatening to steal the win, Parady made what proved to be the game-saving play with 1:18 left when he got fouled on a successful layup attempt and made the ensuing free throw. Holding Old Town without a basket over the final minute, MDI sealed a victory in its season opener for the fourth year in a row.
Collin finished with a team-high 21 points for MDI, which got 11-point efforts from Drew Shea and Erik Merchant as well as 10-point outings from Duley and Parady. Mitchell netted 26 points for Old Town to lead all scorers.
Although neither Collin nor his head coach took the win for granted, the two were less than satisfied with the team’s showing on defense. Old Town’s 66 points marked the most against MDI since the Trojans allowed 67 to Presque Isle on Jan. 18, 2017.
“We’ve got some things that we need to work on,” Collin said. “We made some fouls that we didn’t need to make because we kept jumping at shooters. Rotating and closing out better, not giving their shooters wide-open 3s, those are all places where we need to get better.”
MDI’s next game will be on the road against Foxcroft (0-1) at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11. Foxcroft opened the season with a loss Saturday when it fell 67-56 to John Bapst at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
The schedule from there won’t get any easier for MDI, which will host Oceanside at 5 p.m. next Saturday, Dec. 15, and play on the road against Washington Academy at 6:30 p.m. the following Monday, Dec. 18. With those teams coming off regional playoff appearances, MDI will need stronger efforts to maintain its recent success in Class B North.
“We have all the pieces to be very good,” Norwood said. “It’s just about trying to put them all together right now, and we’re working every day to get better at that.”