PORTLAND—For nearly five minutes Friday evening, Cheverus’ boys’ basketball team did little right and as a result, found itself in a mighty hole.
Then, the Stags dug out of it and proved that it’s not how you begin a game that matters, but how you finish.
Cheverus fell behind rival Deering, 11-0, in a little over four minutes as the host Rams rode the defensive intensity of senior Stephen Ochan and the scoring touch of junior Ben Williams to a seemingly safe lead.
The Stags finally settled down, however, and turned up their defense in a second quarter which saw them hold Deering to two points and that allowed them to pull within two, 17-15.
Cheverus managed to tie the score on four occasions in the third period, but a jumper in the lane from senior Garang Majok and a floater from Williams put the Rams back on top, 27-23, heading for the fourth quarter.
There, the Stags put on a show.
A floater from junior Luca Napolitano and a baseline jumper from freshman Jesse Matthews tied the score.
Then, with 6:43 to play, Cheverus took its first lead when Matthews made a layup.
The Stags would eventually score 11 successive points and never looked back, extending their run to 22-4 before putting the finishing touches on a shockingly decisive 45-34 victory.
Sophomore Austin Boudreau led the way with 12 points, senior Zordan Holman added 11 and Matthews had 10 as Cheverus, by virtue of its biggest regular season victory in years, improved to 4-1 and dropped Deering to 3-1 in the process.
“Obviously that start was less than impressive, but we have a bunch of young kids who haven’t been on the floor before,” said Stags coach Dan Costigan. “The kids had to be tough and they were. They were resilient and they got better as the game went on.”
Cheverus and Deering were relegated to city afterthoughts last season as rival Portland steamrolled everyone en route to an undefeated state championship.
The winter, however, the Rams and the Stags are back as top contenders.
Cheverus opened with a 63-55 home win over Windham and after falling at Bonny Eagle by two (41-39), beat host Thornton Academy (59-51) and visiting Massabesic (49-32).
Deering held off visiting Bonny Eagle in the opener (64-59), then won at Thornton Academy (63-58) and at home over Noble (67-42).
Entering Friday’s showdown, the Rams had won five of the past six meetings (see sidebar, below). Last year, each squad won at home (Cheverus, 47-46, and Deering, 66-56).
The Rams hoped for more of the same Friday and for awhile appeared destined for another victory, but the Stags managed to win their first game on the Rams’ floor since Feb. 8, 2011.
Just 35 seconds in, Williams made a free throw to give Deering a lead it wouldn’t relinquish the entire first half.
A Majok 3 and a Williams layup after a nice spin move put the Rams on top, 6-0.
After the Stags turned the ball over for the fourth time, Costigan called timeout, but it didn’t stem the onslaught.
Majok set up Williams for a layup, Majok made a free throw and with 3:56 to play in the first quarter, Williams set up Majok for a layup and a seemingly commanding 11-0 advantage.
Facing a double digit deficit in a hostile gym with foul trouble mounting, Cheverus was on the ropes, but this squad believes it’s a legitimate contender this winter and its play suggested that very thing.
With 3:06 left in the first, Holman took a pass from Napolitano and made a layup to finally get the Stags on the board.
Williams answered with a driving layup, but Boudreau sank a long 3. After senior Jacob Coon made a layup for the Rams to apparently give them momentum heading into the quarter break, Napolitano drove for a layup as time expired and despite its slow start, Cheverus trailed by only eight, 15-7.
The second period went much better for the visitors, as Deering suddenly found itself unable to score.
After junior Andrew Roberts, who gave the Stags key minutes off the bench, made a layup, Rams junior Jason Thach made a free throw, but had it waved off due to a violation as a teammate stepped into the lane too early.
Cheverus took advantage, as sophomore Jack Casale drove for a layup and after a free throw from Ochan, Boudreau buried a long 3 to pull the Stags within 16-14.
Inside of the final minute of the half, Majok made a free throw, but Boudreau was fouled on a drive as time expired and he made one of his two foul shots to make the score Deering 17 Cheverus 15 at the break.
Majok and Williams had seven points apiece in the first half, but the Rams didn’t bury the Stags when they had their chance and it would come back to haunt them.
Just 29 seconds into the second half, a basket from Matthews tied the game.
A leaner from Williams put Deering back on top, but Holman grabbed two offensive rebounds, then finished to make it 19-19.
Ochan made a layup after a steal to give the Rams the lead again.
“Stephen sees passing lanes,” Deering coach Todd Wing said. “He anticipates very well.”
Boudreau then fed Holman for a layup to tie the score at 21-21.
A Williams putback again put Deering up two, but again, Cheverus rallied, as Holman made another layup.
In the final minute of the third period, Majok hit a jumper in the lane and Williams raced coast to coast for a floater which gave his team a 27-23 advantage with eight minutes to go.
As rough as the first quarter was for the Stags, the fourth was that magnificent.
Two baskets in a 17-second span, a floater from Napolitano and a Matthews baseline jumper, tied the score, 27-27.
This time, the Rams would not answer, as Matthews took a pass from Roberts and made a layup with 6:43 remaining.
Thirty-five seconds later, Deering’s chances were further compromised as Williams was called for his fourth foul.
Holman made a free throw, Boudreau sank a jumper after a steal and with 5:02 left, Holman took a pass from Boudreau and made a layup to cap an 11-0 run and make it 34-27 Cheverus.
With Williams back in the game, the Rams finally scored a basket, as Coon scored on a putback with 3:45 left, but Casale hit a backbreaking 3, Matthews hit two free throws and with 2:02 to play, Matthews drove the baseline, then finished with a highlight reel reverse layup for a commanding 41-29 advantage.
Deering got two points back on a Williams layup after an Ochan steal, but Boudreau made a layup, senior Derek Hammond made a foul shot and Boudreau added another point at the line.
With 20.9 seconds left, the Rams got a 3 from junior Malik White, which banked in, but it was far too little, too late and a sure Deering victory had evaporated and turned into a 45-34 Stags’ triumph.
“It was eye-opening,” Matthews said. “They played tough, but we answered the bell. We stuck to our stuff. We knew we were capable of coming back. We played defense and stuck together. We knew we’d make plays down the stretch.”
“(Deering’s) a good team, especially at home,” Holman said. “They play hard. They’re well coached. We didn’t handle their pressure well at the beginning. We battled back and showed our toughness and showed what we had at the end. We got the ball inside and got it to our shooters. We did what we needed to win.”
“It’s a really nice win for us,” Costigan added. “Deering’s a very good team. They’re quick. They come at you. They make you do things that get you out of control. We had to see it and experience it. We can’t duplicate their strength and speed. You have to see it and experience it and hopefully you survive it and get better and that’s what we did. We were able to do our stuff in the fourth quarter. We got it inside and things worked out for us.”
Boudreau led Cheverus with a dozen points and was a harbor in the Deering tempest in the second half.
“Austin settled down,” Costigan said. “He’s a really good player. He did a wonderful job for us. He shoots 3s, handles the ball and gets us in the right spots.”
Holman had 11 points, six rebounds (four coming on the offensive glass) and a pair of steals. Matthews showed his promise with 10 points and five boards.
“(Jesse) got better and better,” Costigan said. “He played against junior high kids last year. He got better as the game went on. He’s tough. He got rebounds down the stretch.”
Casale finished with five points and four rebounds, Napolitano had four points, Roberts two (to go with five rebounds) and Hammond one.
“Everyone who went in the game made us better,” Costigan said. “Roberts went in and did his job. (Senior) Matty Sweret and Luca Napolitano did a nice job, as did (senior) Cam Chea.”
The Stags overcame 19 turnovers and hit 6 of 10 free throws.
Deering got a game-high 15 points from Williams, who also had six rebounds.
“Ben is who makes our pressure go,” Wing said. “When he got in foul trouble, it’s hard to replace his energy. That made a difference.”
Majok added nine points and four boards. Coon finished with four points, while Ochan (four rebounds, three assists and two steals) and White both had three.
The Rams committed 17 turnovers and made just 4 of 10 foul shots.
“We forced the tempo in spurts and we were successful, but when we let them sit in their zone, we weren’t successful,” Wing said. “We had some good looks, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to catch the ball in the scoring area and that was the difference. We ran what we ran, but our execution was poor. That’s to Cheverus’ credit. They played strong interior defense. We didn’t get a lot of clean looks.”
Both teams have tough tests before they can celebrate New Year’s.
Deering hopes to bounce back into the win column Tuesday at Westbrook.
“Westbrook can match us athletically,” Wing said. “They play strong defense. Tempo will be the deciding factor.”
After playing Gorham Friday (at the Portland Exposition Building), the Rams close the old year Dec. 30 at home against a vastly improved South Portland squad.
“It’s a strong bunch of guys,” Wing said. “We have strong senior leadership. They’ll take care of it. There will be bumps in the road. It’s good for us to see that early on and see who responds well.”
Cheverus is idle until Dec. 30, when it hosts unbeaten Portland, which is currently riding a 27-game win streak.
“We have a really good group of guys,” Matthews said. “We need to get better defensively.”
“We’re only five games in,” Holman said. “We have to work on getting better and getting in better shape. Portland’s a good team. It will be a great game. We can’t wait.”
“It’s a very good win for us, but it’s early,” Costigan added. “It’s December 19th. There’s all kinds of basketball left. There’s a long way to go.”
Cheverus sophomore Austin Boudreau goes up for a layup.
Cheverus senior Zordan Holman launches an outside shot.
Cheverus’ fans whoop it up during the comeback.
Cheverus coach Dan Costigan diagrams a play during a timeout.
Deering junior Benedict Williams, who led all scorers with 15 points, drives on Cheverus senior Matt Sweret.
Deering coach Todd Wing talks to his team during a timeout.
@ Cheverus 47 Deering 46
@ Deering 66 Cheverus 56
@ Deering 71 Cheverus 63
Deering 64 @ Cheverus 52
Cheverus 72 @ Deering 42
@ Cheverus 63 Deering 53
Cheverus 63 @ Deering 35
@ Cheverus 60 Deering 38
@ Cheverus 67 Deering 49
Cheverus 66 @ Deering 48
Cheverus 68 @ Deering 58 (OT)
@ Cheverus 55 Deering 34
Deering 50 @ Cheverus 49
@ Deering 51 Cheverus 47
@ Cheverus 57 Deering 51
Cheverus 60 @ Deering 51
Western A Final
Deering 45 Cheverus 42
@ Cheverus 65 Deering 54
Cheverus 66 @ Deering 52
Cheverus senior Zordan Holman and Deering senior Garang Majok battle for a rebound during Friday’s tilt. Holman and the Stags rallied from an early 11-0 deficit to prevail, 45-34.
Ben McCanna photos.
More photos below.
C- 7 8 8 22- 45
D- 15 2 10 7- 34
C- Boudreau 4-2-12, Holman 5-1-11, Matthews 4-2-10, Casale 2-0-5, Napolitano 2-0-4, Roberts 1-0-2, Hammond 0-1-1
D- Williams 7-1-15, Majok 3-2-9, Coon 2-0-4, Ochan 1-1-3, White 1-0-3
C (3) Boudreau 2, Casale 1
D (2) Majok, White 1