PORTLAND—The Cheverus Stags boys’ basketball team, playing without star point guard Indiana Faithfull after the senior was ejected late in the second quarter, hopped on the Kyle Randall Express and doubled its 15-point halftime lead with a 26-point third quarter fusillade to dismiss the Portland Bulldogs rather easily, 63-35, in front of a large assembly expecting another classic between these two city rivals that never happened Tuesday night at Keegan Gymnasium.
Faithfull was ejected along with Portland senior Jake Alexander with under two minutes to play in the first half after taking particular offense to Alexander’s WWF-like hold on a loose ball rebound beneath the Cheverus basket.
Proving this Stags team is not just a one-man show, Randall hit from downtown three times in the third with an impressive display of marksmanship on his way to an 11-point quarter and game-high 15 points.
The senior guard drilled his first 3 to begin a 12-2 run that ended when he canned his second just moments before junior forward Griffin Brady followed with his own 3 to close out the Stags’ second 6-0 run in four minutes to open the second half.
Brady’s 3-pointer put Cheverus on top by 25 points midway through the third, but Randall hit from 3 once more with just over two minutes left in the quarter to kickoff seven more unanswered points as the Stags’ gained their high-watermark lead of 31 at 47-16 on a hustling tip by Randall of a loose ball heading for the bleachers near midcourt. Randall swatted the ball back into play and right into the hands of Louie DiStasio on the fly for an easy bucket in transition. DiStasio, a promising sophomore guard, finished with five points in the game for Cheverus.
“We just had to come out and keep playing hard without Indy,” said DiStasio. “The whole team had to step up and do the best we could. We wanted to keep playing the way we normally do and just get the win.”
The Stags closed out the third quarter leading 52-22 and remained unbeaten on the season (4-0) with an unceremonious whipping of the Bulldogs (2-2) on a night where Faithfull managed just four points before being asked to leave with a 23-9 lead and 1:34 left before in the first half.
Faithfull, the Stags’ 6-foot-3 senior point guard, found himself entangled with the wrong guy in Alexander in one of those classic “you let go first” jump ball situations under the basket.
Alexander, a beast on the gridiron, makes his living tending to the Bulldogs’ dirty work down low during the basketball season and had no intention whatsoever of losing the dead-ball tug of war with Faithfull.
Listed in the program at 6-foot-5, Alexander rubbed Faithfull off on the protective padding behind the first hoop and the two exchanged a brief flurry of mini-rabbit jabs before being separated by officials.
Faithfull and Alexander picked up matching technical fouls and were immediately ejected. Per league rules, both players will be forced to sit and watch the next game in street clothes serving out one-game suspensions. Both teams are home Friday night with Cheverus hosting Windham and Portland welcoming the Gorham Rams to the Expo.
On just about any other night Portland and coach Joe Russo would take the Alexander for Faithfull exchange. With all due respect to Alexander, a top football player and highly capable athlete, Faithfull remains of the state’s top players with his ability to score, create easy hoops for his teammates and most of all – defend.
“It was important that we didn’t flounder around there when Faithfull went out,” said Cheverus coach Bob Brown. “He’s been our starting point guard for three years and all of the sudden we’re looking around and he’s not there. But we had some guys step up and hit shots – make some big plays – and we fed off that.”
In a game where anything that could go wrong for the Bulldogs did, the Stags regrouped at the half and went on a devastating tear behind Randall, Brady (11 points), and junior transfer Alex Furness (seven points), fueled by suffocating defensive pressure that often led to points.
Furness, a 6-foot-5 forward from Wells, has a nasty game, with the ability to put the ball on the deck, hit the 3-pointer and fill the lane in transition for easy hoops. Defensively, Furness has a maddening ability to alter the shots he doesn’t block and then turns and rebounds with the league’s best. His versatility was on full display after the half when he took over for Faithfull at the point and performed nobly.
With Faithfull on the prowl early, Portland turned the ball over on 12 different occasions in the first quarter alone, spoiling its own opportunities and creating ones for Cheverus in the process.
“I thought we had a good chance to come in here and upset Cheverus,” said Russo. “We certainly didn’t come out with hopes of losing the way we did. We didn’t get off to a great start and that hurt us. We played great defense in the first quarter, but had a hard time getting open looks and missed the ones we had.
“In the second half we just didn’t come out on the same page. We got down and started watching the scoreboard which forced us to act more urgently than we needed to. We have a group of seniors on this team that I expected to react differently in that situation. But a lot of it has to do with Cheverus playing great defense. We turned the ball over way too many times. They happened at times when we had numbers in transition and those are the ones that really hurt. We had opportunities to score that we didn’t convert.”
Cheverus almost miraculously scored to end each of the first three quarters, twice on 3-pointers from junior Connor O’Neil to end the first and the third. Furness did his part when he beat the first half buzzer with a soaring one-handed slam on the break. With the departure of Faithfull still fresh, Furness’ dunk stole any chance the Bulldogs had to sway momentum as the Stags’ ran off the floor enjoying a 26-11 lead at intermission.
The Stags took a 12-4 advantage after the first quarter when Randall scored four-points, Faithfull hit a pair of foul shots, and junior Joe Savino found O’Neil (six points) hiding out alone in the deep-corner for a 3 that swished through as the horn sounded.
Senior forward Joe Zukowski scored all four points for the Bulldogs in the first quarter on his way to a team-high 13 points.
“We just came out a little soft,” Zukowski said. “We weren’t getting to the rim and finishing shots. It was disappointing for us when Jake (Alexander) went out. They lost Faithfull for the second half but we lost Jake, too. We need to get back to practice and work harder. We need to come together and play as a team.”
Portland senior guard Koang Thok, one of the league’s top players, had a tough go against one of the only team’s in the league that can defend on his level at the rim. Thok went scoreless in the opening half and didn’t notch his first points until netting a pair of foul shots with just over a minute left in the third period and the game far out of hand.
Senior guard Wally Stover had an off night from the floor and finished with four points, while the rest of the Bulldogs starters didn’t score in the face of constant pressure.
“We were particularly concerned about defending Portland on the perimeter,” said Brown. “They have four seniors that are pretty nice players. They’re quick out-front and we just haven’t faced any teams like that yet. I told the kids coming in that I thought Thok was one of the five best players in our league right now. His stats so far will back me up. But I thought we did a good job containing them. We’re a long team. We block shots and can get to some balls that other teams can’t. It’s a tough thing to adjust to. When you’re playing you don’t always recognize our length right away.”
Cheverus extended its lead to 15 at the half, winning the second quarter 14-7 on the strength of five points from Furness, his lone 3-pointer from Faithfull and a crowd-pleasing jam to close out the half.
Portland got standout play from hustling freshman guard Nick Volger in a six-point effort. Fellow classmate Nate Smart saw some action and finished with four points, while junior guard Dylan Goodman scored four of his own in the closing moments.
The teams have a rematch Jan. 15 at the Expo.