EPPING — They absorbed punches. Then they threw punches.
And the Newmarket High School boys basketball team landed its best ones after halftime to grab a road win over its biggest rival on Thursday.
Jared Woodman scored 17 points, from both inside and out with his point guard in foul trouble, and the Mules rallied from 13 points down in the first half to beat Epping, 57-45, a game that sent both Division IV contenders into their holiday break.
“I just told them, we could have gone one or two ways. We’re happy the way that we did go,” said Newmarket coach Jamie Hayes. “I’m really proud of the way they stepped up.”
Newmarket (4-1) won its fourth straight game. It will play in the Farmington holiday tournament next week before it returns to league play and hosts Concord Christian on Jan. 4.
Point guard Simon Cote scored 13 points, despite missing a chunk of the third quarter after a third foul pointed him to the bench.
Epping took its first loss, despite the inside-outside combo of guard Hunter Bullock (16) and forward Peyton Rivers (14) combining for 30 points.
But the shots that Bullock was making in the first half, from the perimeter or using his quickness to drive the lane, were contested harder after the break, and Rivers fouled out early in the fourth quarter.
“It comes down to making shots,” said Epping coach Nick Fiset. “When you make shots, everything looks good. We were 70 percent in the first quarter. But at the end of the day, they’re a very good defensive team.”
Epping (3-1) will play in the eight-team Oyster River holiday tournament, against larger schools, that begins the day after Christmas.
The start was all Rivers. The junior forward scored his team’s first three hoops and 10 points in the quarter, dominating the boards as the Blue Devils took a 21-12 lead after one quarter.
The edge grew to 27-14 after Bullock passed to Shawn Hill for a conversion and there was still a 12-point gap when Hill hit a three from the left corner to make it 30-18.
But things changed after that, with the quick Bullock, who was using his crossover dribbles to great advantage, getting guarded better and the Mules, who’d grabbed a paltry three rebounds in the first period, placing more bodies inside.
“We started to play defense without fouling,” said Cote. “We fouled and they got to the line, but after that we put the clamps on.”
“We tried to take as much momentum away from Hunter as we could,” said Woodman. “One of our guys came over to help all the time.”
Down 30-25 at halftime after Woodman got himself to the line for a series of free throws, the rest wasn’t about elegance for the Mules. It was about effort.
It was about sophomore forward Owen Tower (eight points) fighting for two offensive rebounds and putbacks late in the third quarter. Those two hoops gave his team the lead for good, and kicked off a 17-1 run that carried well into the fourth quarter and ended the drama.
“He’s really athletic,” said Cote. “He’s definitely going to be our future center. He gave us big minutes tonight. He works hard in practice; he’s always rebounding, he’s always running the floor.”
“Some energy plays,” said Hayes. “We had guys who got deflections, loose balls … it brought our energy to another level. Defensively, we were a little quicker, we were in passing lanes and stuff like that. It wasn’t finesse; it was energy.”
Epping scored just 15 points after halftime.
“Good to beat them on their home floor, and go into break 4-1 instead of 3-2,” said Woodman.
The Blue Devils took something away, too, which they’ll hope to use when the teams play their second leg on Feb. 1.
“I think what we proved, into half of the third, is that we can play with them,” said Fiset. “We’ll get back to work at it. We’ve got another shot them. We’ll probably get a third shot at them.”
But score the first round for Newmarket.
“Second half of the season, we plan on turning it up even more,” said Cote.
MULES 57, BLUE DEVILS 45
Al. Phoubaykham 0-2-2, Woodman 5-4-17, Cote 5-1-13, Chase 2-0-4, Willey 1-2-4, James 1-1-3, Am. Phoubaykham 1-0-2, Senesombath 1-1-4, Tower 3-2-8. Totals: 19-13-57.
Bilodeau 2-0-4, Hill 3-0-7, LePage 1-2-4, Bullock 5-6-16, Rivers 7-0-14. Totals: 18-8-45.
Newmarket 12 13 19 13--57
Epping 21 9 10 5--45
3-point goals: Newmarket 6 (Woodman 3, Cote 2, Senesombath); Epping 1 (Hill). Fouled out: Rivers. Prelim: Newmarket JVs, 75-45.