Deering sophomore Ben Onek soars for a first half slam dunk during the Rams’ 67-48 win at Cheverus Friday night.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
D- 20 13 18 16- 67
C- 17 8 8 15- 48
D- Salamone 6-5-17, Onek 6-3-16, Chikuta 5-0-12, Dutton 3-0-6, Sinclair 2-1-5, Nguany 2-0-4, Despacho 1-0-3, Kaserman 1-0-2, Vail 1-0-2,
C- Casale 10-0-23, Matthews 6-0-12, Shibles 2-0-6, Ephron 1-1-4, Duchaine 1-0-3
D (4) Chikuta 2, Despacho, Onek 1
C (7) Casale 3, Shibles 2, Duchaine, Ephron 1
PORTLAND—All of the qualities which make Deering’s boys’ basketball team a top contender were on display Friday evening at Keegan Gymnasium.
And if the Rams continue to harness what might be a skill set without peer, great things could loom down the road.
Battling a fired-up, resurgent Cheverus squad in front of a crowd that brought back memories of huge games of yore, visiting Deering answered every challenge and went on to its fifth straight victory.
An entertaining, high-flying first quarter, which featured above-the-rim thrills from both teams, saw four ties and five lead changes and ended with the Rams in front to stay, 20-17, thanks to a late 3-point shot from sophomore Ben Onek.
Deering then gained some breathing room by opening the second period on a 6-0 run, but the Stags, behind senior standouts Jack Casale and Jesse Matthews, refused to go quietly.
Cheverus was within three points after a Casale layup, but Rams senior Raffaele Salamone scored on a putback, senior reserves James Sinclair and Orey Dutton combined for three points and senior Manny Chikuta added a layup to help Deering take a 33-25 lead to the break.
Casale opened the second half with a basket, but the Rams soon broke it open, thanks to 10 points in the period from Chikuta, and went ahead by 18 points, 51-33, by the end of the third quarter.
Down the stretch, the Stags never got any closer than 12 and Deering closed out its 67-48 victory.
The Rams, who got scoring from eight players, were led by 17 points from Salamone, 16 from Onek and 12 from Chikuta as they improved to 7-1 and dropped Cheverus to 6-2 in the process.
“We talk about our ceiling and where we could be and we took some steps there tonight,” said Deering coach Todd Wing. “We’ve played good segments throughout the season, but we haven’t put a full game together. Against a quality opponent, we did that tonight.”
There was a big-game buzz in the air Friday evening, something that has been missing from Cheverus for awhile.
That’s because the Stags have returned to prominence this winter and any city showdown is a big deal, especially when both squads have aspirations of advancing deep in the tournament.
Cheverus started fast this season, downing host Sanford in overtime (51-49) and edging visiting Scarborough (57-51) and Windham (64-59). After a 71-51 loss at Edward Little, the Stags downed visiting Oxford Hills (54-44) and won at Massabesic (56-45) and Bangor (58-44).
Deering opened with wins at Windham (62-41) and at home over Noble (79-33), then was humbled as home by Oxford Hills, 62-54. The Rams bounced back and prevailed at Lewiston (66-58), Bangor (65-49, in a game played at the Augusta Civic Center) and Sanford (62-56), before downing visiting Gorham (57-45) Tuesday.
Entering Friday’s contest, Deering had beaten Cheverus in eight of the past 10 meetings (see sidebar, below), after the Stags had won 11 in a row before that. Last winter, the Rams rolled at home, 69-45, then held on to win at Cheverus, 49-43.
This time, Deering prevailed again, thanks to a very impressive team-wide performance.
The first period’s pace was fast and furious.
Casale gave the Stags the lead with a jumper 45 seconds in, but Salamone quickly made his presence felt with a layup, then with two free throws for a 4-2 lead.
Casale gave Cheverus the lead back with a 3 and Casale set up Matthews for a pretty reverse layup, making it 7-4, but the Rams rattled off five straight points, as Onek drove for a layup, was fouled and hit the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play and Onek drove the baseline for a layup.
A Matthews floater tied the score, but Onek then took center-stage, taking a long pass from Salamone and sailing in for a dunk, which brought much of the crowd to its feet.
“I didn’t think I’d get up there,” Onek said. “I jumped a little weird, but I was able to put it in there.”
“Ben’s had peaks and valleys like a typical sophomore, but his peaks are much higher,” Wing said.
Onek then took another pass from Salamone and made a layup for a 13-9 lead, forcing Cheverus coach Ryan Soucie to call timeout.
The Stags responded, as Matthews drove the baseline for a layup and with 2:58 to go in the quarter, Casale hit a 3 for what proved to be the hosts’ final lead, 14-13.
A leaner from senior Machar Nguany nine seconds later put Deering ahead and Onek set up Salamone for a layup, but junior Will Shibles tied the score with a 3 from the corner.
With 1:28 remaining, Onek’s 3 put the Rams ahead to stay, 20-17, a score which held up into the second period.
In the first eight minutes, Onek had 12 points and Salamone added eight, which was more than Casale (8) and Matthews (6) could produce.
Deering opened up a healthier lead in the second quarter.
Junior Ricky Despacho opened the frame with a 3, Salamone added a free throw and Dutton drove for a layup and a 26-17 lead.
“The last couple games, we came out flat and didn’t play with that much energy,” Salamone said. “We’ve focused in practice to come out with energy and perform from start to finish.”
“We shot 14-of-16 when the ball went into the post,” Wing said. “We got the ball in the post and we knew their game plan was to stop ‘Raff.’ It’s no secret he’s a good post player, but we’ve got good perimeter players too. They had to focus on the interior and that opens things up. We know teams will play 2-3 zone on us and we’ve gotten pretty good at that.”
A Casale leaner ended a 9-0 Rams’ run. Matthews then scored on a putback and Casale drove for a layup to cut the deficit to three, but the Stags would get no closer, as Salamone scored on a putback, Sinclair made a free throw, Dutton finished a layup in transition, switching from his right hand to his left before banking it in from an impossible angle at the last second, and Chikuta drove for a layup and a 10-point lead.
With 22.1 seconds left, Matthews drove the baseline for a layup, but that only drew Cheverus within 33-25 at halftime.
In the first half, Onek led the way with 12 points and Salamone nearly produced a double-double (nine points, seven rebounds). The Stags were led by 12 points from Casale and 10 from Matthews.
In the third, Deering dominated and pulled away.
Casale started the second half with a floater off the glass, but after a steal, senior Jean Claude Butera set up Chikuta for a layup. Chikuta then hit consecutive 3s to make it 41-27.
“Manny’s coming off back-to-back 20-point games,” Wing said. “He’s seized his opportunity. He showed flashes last year. He’s comfortable in this gym.”
Casale countered with a reverse layup and a layup after a steal to cut the deficit to 10, but that’s as close as Cheverus would get.
Salamone single-handedly turned the tide by converting a three-point play, making a free throw and taking a pass from Butera and scoring on a layup, all in a 42-second span. Chikuta drove for a layup and after Casale hit a fadeaway jumper from the baseline, Sinclair’s putback at the horn made it 51-33 Rams.
The fourth period was a mere formality.
Shibles banked in a 3 to start the final stanza, but Sinclair made a layup. After Stags sophomore Matt Duchaine buried a 3, Onek answered with a layup, but a Matthews layup and a free throw from junior Tobias Ephron cut the deficit to 55-42.
After Nguany scored on a putback, Ephron’s 3 pulled Cheverus within 12, 57-45, but Salamone made a layup, Onek sank two free throws, Dutton scored on a putback and senior Mason Kaserman put home a miss for a 65-45 lead.
A Casale 3 produced the Stags’ final points before junior Blaize Vail’s layup accounted for the final margin of Deering’s 67-48 victory.
“It means a lot,” Onek said. “Cheverus is a really good team. We came out strong and finished and it felt great.”
“Anytime you come into a hostile environment, especially Cheverus, and win, it’s awesome,” Salamone said. “We knew it would be tough, but we came out with a ‘W.’ Every game we’ve had, we’ve come out with high intensity in the second half. It’s fun to keep that going. The EL loss was really tough. They came in and beat us in our gym. We didn’t really play together as a team. We’ve been playing together ever since, getting each other shots.”
“This was our first Friday night game and what a great night to have it,” Wing added. “It felt different. It felt like the old days. Both crowds were into it. It was great to have the students’ support. It’s a great way to spend a Friday in the winter.”
Salamone paced the Rams with 17 points and nine rebounds. Onek had 16 points and Chikuta was also in double figures with 12.
Dutton added six points.
“Orey came in and made Casale’s life tough,” said Salamone. “Casale is a really good player, but Orey played good defense on him and made him take tough shots.”
Sinclair finished with five points, Nguany had four, Despacho three and Kaserman and Vail two apiece.
“Everyone off the bench can contribute and we don’t miss a beat,” Wing said. “Guys struck while the iron was hot.”
Deering enjoyed a 32-13 rebounding advantage, committed 13 turnovers and went 9 of 16 from the foul line.
Cheverus was, as usual, paced by Casale, who had 23 points. Matthews added 12 points, Shibles had six, Ephron four and Duchaine three.
The Stags took just three free throws (making one) and turned the ball over 11 times.
“They beat us fair and square, in every facet of the game,” Soucie said. “Offensively, defensively, on the glass. They got to the free throw line and we didn’t. They just beat us. They’re aggressive. They come at you. They have depth. I was disappointed in our poise and our basketball IQ and our ability to execute and slow the game down. They sped us up and we let them speed us up and we never controlled the tempo. We let them get out early on and they did it the entire game. We went zone and credit to them, they hit shots. They’re quicker than we are.
“Jack and Jesse are our two consistent guys. We need a third consistent scorer. Jack and Jesse have to trust their teammates. When we’ve been successful, they’ve trusted them. When we haven’t been, we stall and watch the ball.”
Both teams will face an abundance of challenges before squaring off again Jan. 27 at Deering.
The Stags (now third in the Class AA North Heal Points standings) are idle for a week. They don’t play again until Bonny Eagle pays a visit Jan. 14. After a trip to Noble, Cheverus plays at defending AA South champion South Portland, then hosts defending AA champion Portland.
“The reality is that it’s our third game this week,” Soucie said. “We had to go to Massabesic Monday and travel to Bangor Wednesday. By no means, is that an excuse, but it is reality. Our energy is a little low right now. We bounced back pretty well when we lost to Edward Little. I hope we’ll respond well after this. We’ll continue to hammer home the things we think are important.”
The Rams (second to Edward Little in AA North) return home next week for a pair of huge tests, battling Thornton Academy Thursday and South Portland Saturday.
If that’s not daunting enough, a trip to Portland follows.
“We have to keep working hard and finish games,” Onek said. “If we do that, we can be a really good team.”
“(Those games) will be tough,” Salamone said. “We need to limit turnovers and play better defense.”
“These guys know it’s a four-game meat-grinder with no room to take a breath,” Wing added. “It’s on to the next game. This is what we want.”
Deering junior Ricky Despacho soars for a 3-point shot as Cheverus junior Tobias Ephron defends.
Cheverus senior Jack Casale shoots for two of his game-high 23 points as Deering senior Jean Claude Butera defends.
Cheverus junior Tobias Ephron is defended by Deering sophomore Ben Onek.
Deering senior Raffaele Salamone grabs a rebound.
Deering senior Orey Dutton shoots over Cheverus senior Noah Johnson.
Cheverus senior Jesse Matthews boxes out Deering sophomore Ben Onek..
Cheverus junior Will Shibles and Deering senior Jean Claude Butera hit the floor to battle for a loose ball.
Deering senior Manny Chikuta goes to the basket.
Cheverus senior Jesse Matthews slams home two points.
@ Deering 69 Cheverus 45
Deering 49 @ Cheverus 43
Cheverus 45 @ Deering 34
Deering 69 @ Cheverus 64
@ Cheverus 47 Deering 46
@ Deering 66 Cheverus 56
@ Deering 71 Cheverus 63
Deering 64 @ Cheverus 52
@ Cheverus 49 Deering 40
@ Deering 50 Cheverus 46
Western A semifinals
Deering 52 Cheverus 49
@ Cheverus 61 Deering 51
Cheverus 43 Deering 36
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