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PORTLAND—As we suspected, last winter was the time to kick the Cheverus boys’ basketball team while it was down.
Because this season, the Stags are back.
Cheverus continued its strong early season play Friday evening at Keegan Gymnasium when it put on a dizzying display of long-range shooting in a showdown against talented Thornton Academy.
The Stags buried 11 3-pointers and eventually broke open a close game.
Leading by just three points, 36-33, with time winding down in the third period, Cheverus senior Brad Carney hit a 3-ball. Carney added another long-range bomb eight seconds into the fourth quarter and the Stags never looked back. Senior Noah Stebbins went off for 11 points in the final stanza and senior Manny Ismail was superb from start to finish, leading all scorers with 21 points, and Cheverus prevailed, 63-44.
Carney added 18 points and Stebbins had 14 as the Stags improved to 2-1, dropping the Golden Trojans to 0-2 in the process.
“We can play with anyone,” said Carney, who made four 3s. “Tonight showed that. We definitely got some momentum going. Our big men got us some open shots. We have a bunch of great shooters. We got it going and we were on a roll.”
Cheverus was one of the state’s elite programs for the majority of this century, but last winter, the Stags slipped to 6-12 and missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
This winter, however, they appear to have returned to form, winning a close one at Windham in the opener (65-62), then taking visiting preseason favorite Bonny Eagle to the wire before falling, 62-58.
Thornton Academy, meanwhile, is looking to build on last year’s run to the semifinals. The Golden Trojans opened Tuesday at Deering and couldn’t overcome a slow start in a 77-55 loss.
Over the past decade, Cheverus has beaten Thornton Academy in 10 of 14 meetings (please see sidebar, below), but in the last nine games, the Golden Trojans have won four times. The squads also met four times in the past seven postseasons with the Stags prevailing on three occasions, but Thornton Academy won the most memorable encounter, a 47-41 upset of previously undefeated and then-defending state champion Cheverus in the 2009 Western A semifinals.
Last year, the Golden Trojans beat the Stags in Saco, 46-38.
Friday, Cheverus led almost the whole way.
A short jumper from Ismail set the tone 63 seconds in. After Carney got in the scoresheet with a short jumper, the visitors got on the board when junior Kevin Barrett made two free throws, but promising Stags freshmen Austin Boudreau sank a 3 and Carney set up Ismail for a layup and a quick 9-2 advantage.
“The Bonny Eagle game helped us a lot,” Ismail said. “It gave us the mindset that we could compete with high level teams. We just have to go hard all the time. We knew (Thornton Academy) could shoot the ball. We knew we had to come out with high intensity or we’d come out behind.”
The visitors then awakened and scored 10 straight points to go ahead.
Senior standout Quinn Richardson-Newton got the rally started with a leaner in the lane and a pullup jumper. After senior Reuben Moses tied the score with a 3, Moses hit another 3 and the Golden Trojans were on top, 12-9.
An Ismail jumper stemmed the tide and a 3 minute, 2 second drought, but a leaner from Richardson-Newton put Thornton Academy on top, 14-11, after eight minutes.
The second period saw the hosts open up a little breathing room.
After Ismail hit a jumper, Barrett set up junior Daniel Ruff for a layup. Ismail hit a baseline jumper and Stags senior Sam Cross came in off the bench and scored on a putback to put his team back on top, 17-16, but with 3:02 left before halftime, Barrett hit a leaner and 33 seconds later, Richardson-Newton set up sophomore Corey Hart for a layup and a 20-17 advantage.
But that would be the last time the Golden Trojans would lead.
With 2:14 left in the half, Stebbins began heating up and tied the game with a 3.
A pullup jumper from Carney with 1:31 to go put Cheverus on top to stay. In the final minute, Bouchard hit a 3-ball and Carney did the same to make it 28-20 at the break.
Thornton Academy would make things interesting in the third quarter, but eventually, the Stags opened it up.
When Barrett took a pass from Moses and made a layup 57 seconds into the second half, the Stags’ 11-0 run had come to an end, as did the Golden Trojans’ 3:26 stretch without a point.
Ismail answered with a 3, but Richardson-Newton made a layup, senior Evan Wright drained a long 3 and Moses hit a baseline jumper to pull Thornton Academy within two, 31-29.
Carney stepped up when his team needed him most, hitting a 3 for a little breathing room. After a layup from Richardson-Newton, Ismail hit a pullup jumper for a 36-31 lead.
With 1:13 to go in the third, Barrett made two free throws to make it a one-possession game, but the Stags were about to blow it open.
Momentum turned for good when Carney hit a clutch 3 with 25.5 seconds left in the quarter, making it 39-33 Cheverus with eight minutes to play.
The Stags got the ball to start to fourth and it came immediately to Carney, who knocked down another 3 to open the lead up to 42-33.
“Against a 1-3-1 (zone), you’ll get open looks,” said Cheverus coach Dan Costigan. “You have to be ready and willing to shoot. Brad’s played very well. I’ll live with those inside-out shots with his feet set anytime.”
Barrett countered with a free throw, but Carney hit a pullup jumper, Stebbins buried a 3 and Ismail put home his own miss with 6:21 to go for a 49-34 lead.
“I knew I had to keep attacking and that if they came to help, I could kick it out to shooters and they’d knock it down,” Ismail said. “We’re confident in our 3-point shooting. We practice it a lot.”
After Barrett converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw) to end the Stags’ 13-1 run, Ismail managed to rattle home a fadeaway to prevent the Golden Trojans from going on a run. Moses made a driving layup and Richardson-Newton sank a free throw to make it 51-40, but the visitors would draw no closer.
With 4:22 to go, Stebbins took a pass from Carney and sank a 3. After Barrett hit a spinner, Stebbins made a jumper and the next time down the floor, Stebbins made another 3 for a 59-42 lead with 3:27 remaining.
“Noah hadn’t been shooting well coming off football, but it finally went in the hole for him,” Costigan said.
Barrett hit a leaner for Thornton Academy’s final points before Carney set up Cross for a layup.
“We don’t get a lot of points on the block, but we get points in the paint in different ways, like backdoor cuts and penetration,” said Costigan.
Ismail brought the curtain down on the 63-44 victory with a floater.
“We played well,” said Costigan. “Thornton’s a good, tough team. They rebound like a son of a gun. They’re strong kids. Down the stretch, we shot the ball pretty well and that makes a lot of things go away. We’re happy.”
Ismail led all scorers with 21 points and also had four rebounds, four assists and a steal.
“Manny’s played really well,” said Costigan. “He’s a little guy, but he does a lot. He rebounds. He’s active. He’s a pain in the neck to play against.”
Carney was superb with 18 points, Stebbins added 14, Bouchard finished with six and Cross had four (to go with seven boards and a game-high three blocked shots) off the bench, which helped the Stags overcome junior Zordan Holman’s foul troubles (Holman did lead all rebounders with 10).
“Sam came off the bench and was huge with Zordan in foul trouble,” Costigan said. “Zordan’s still not in very good (basketball) shape. He gets in foul trouble.”
Cheverus had a 26-23 advantage on the glass and had seven steals. The Stags only turned the ball over 11 times and in a stunning statistical oddity, didn’t attempt a single free throw.
The Golden Trojans were paced by 16 points and eight rebounds from Barrett. Richardson-Newton scored 11 points, Moses finished with 10, Wright had three and Hart and Ruff each added two. Thornton Academy only committed 10 turnovers and sank seven of nine foul shots.
Thornton Academy plays its home opener Tuesday when South Portland pays a visit. The Golden Trojans then close the 2013 portion of their schedule by hosting Sanford and going to Portland.
Cheverus is at Massabesic Tuesday, then wraps up the year with a pair of city showdowns: home versus Deering Friday and a trip to Portland Dec. 30.
The Stags are back where they belong, in the discussion as a top contender, and they’ll only get better in the weeks to come.
“We have to stay focused all year and never lose sight of our big goal,” Ismail said.
“Costigan’s got us working hard,” Carney said. “We’re happy with the results. The football players were late coming in, but they’ve worked hard. We look forward to Deering and Portland. City rivals. We know kids on their teams. They know us.”
“It’s a process,” Costigan added. “We haven’t seen enough teams to know who’s got what. That’s what this time of year’s about. We’ll get in shape along the way. Bonny Eagle’s having the same issue. Part of our team’s been here for two weeks and now we’re in games, so we can’t do what we’d like to do. It’s a process. No one feels bad for us.”
Cheverus’ fan section cheers on the team.
Cheverus senior Sam Cross, who gave the Stags some crucial minutes off the bench, goes up for a layup.
Cheverus junior Zordan Holman, who was a beast on the glass despite foul trouble, looks for an open teammate.
Cheverus senior Noah Stebbins battles for a loose ball. Stebbins hit several key shots in the fourth quarter when the Stags pulled away.
Cheverus senior Manny Ismail dribbles on a Thornton Academy defender. Ismail was the game’s high scorer with 21 points.
Cheverus coach Dan Costigan exhorts his charges to play defense.
@ TA 46 Cheverus 38
TA 46 @ Cheverus 45
Western A quarterfinals
Cheverus 49 TA 30
Cheverus 52 @ TA 37
@ Cheverus 80 TA 46
Cheverus 57 @ TA 48
Western A semifinals
TA 47 Cheverus 41
TA 51 @ Cheverus 39
Western A Final
Cheverus 40 TA 31
Cheverus 55 @ TA 53
Western A semifinals
Cheverus 53 TA 39
@ Cheverus 80 @ TA 44
Cheverus 60 @ TA 38
@ Cheverus 70 TA 43
Cheverus senior Brad Carney knocks down one of the Stags’ 11 3-pointers during Friday night’s 63-44 home victory over Thornton Academy. Carney had 18 points overall as Cheverus improved to 2-1 on the young season.
Jason Veilleux photos.
More photos below.
Cheverus Thornton Academy
TA- 14 6 13 11- 44
C- 11 17 11 24- 63
Barrett 5-6-16, Richardson-Newton 5-1-11, Moses 4-0-10, Wright 1-0-3, Hart 1-0-2, Ruff 1-0-2
C- Ismail 10-1-21, Carney 7-0-18, Stebbins 5-0-14, Bouchard 2-0-6, Cross 2-0-4
TA (3) Moses 2, Wright 1
C (11) Carney, Stebbins 4, Bouchard 2, Ismail 1
TA (23) Barrett 8, Hart 5, Wright, Richardson-Newton 4, Moses 2
C (26) Holman 10, Cross 7, Ismail 4, Carney 3, Bouchard, Sinclair 1
TA (6) Richardson-Newton, Wright 2, Barrett, Hart 1
C (7) Stebbins 2, Bouchard, Carney, Cross, Holman, Ismail 1
TA (1) Barrett 1
C (4) Cross 3, Holman 1