It was this kind of night for South Portland, as senior Jack Fiorini is surrounded by Deering junior James Sinclair, left, junior Jean Claude Butera and senior Malik White during the Rams’ 66-46 win in an interclass showdown Friday evening.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
D- 18 8 16 24- 66
SP- 12 12 15 7- 46
D- Williams 4-8-16, Lobor 4-4-12, Salamone 5-0-10, White 3-0-7, Chabot 1-2-5, Butera 2-0-4, Nguany 2-0-4, Sinclair 2-0-4, Chikuta 1-0-2, Dutton 1-0-2
SP- Stilley 4-2-10, Bol 4-1-9, Fiorini 2-3-7, Oreste 3-0-6, Hasson 2-0-5, White 2-0-5, DePaolo 1-0-2, Pelletier 1-0-2
D (2) Chabot, White 1
SP (2) Hasson, White 1
SOUTH PORTLAND—There have been some fantastic Deering boys’ basketball teams over the years.
After matching the start of championship teams of yore, the 2015-16 edition is hinting that it might be the next in line.
Friday evening at Beal Gymnasium, the Rams forced nine first quarter turnovers en route to taking an 18-12 lead over host South Portland, which was riding a six-game win streak.
Deering went up by a dozen points midway through the second period, but the Red Riots roared back to cut the Rams’ lead to just two points, 26-24, at halftime.
This Deering squad has another gear, however, and leading by a mere three points entering the fourth quarter, the Rams finished even better than they started, opening the final stanza on an 18-2 run which set the table for a 66-46 victory.
Deering forced 25 turnovers, controlled the glass at both ends, got strong performances from several sources and reminded everyone on hand that it has the ingredients in place to enjoy February greatness, improving to 9-0, matching the program’s best start over the past 15 seasons and dropping South Portland to 7-3 in the process.
“You can’t ask for a better start at the halfway point with a team that hasn’t reached its ceiling,” said Deering coach Todd Wing. “This was a statement win. Having a one-game week, we were really able to prepare.”
Deering and South Portland are accustomed to being among the best teams in the Southwestern Maine Activities Association and this winter has been no different.
Deering opened by downing visiting Windham, 82-60. After an emphatic 105-33 win at Noble, the Rams won at Edward Little (76-62), at home over Sanford (67-38), at Bangor (66-60), at home over Lewiston (69-36), at Gorham (56-51) and at home over Cheverus (69-45).
South Portland lost two of its first three games under new coach Kevin Millington, 75-56 at Portland and 45-38 at Gorham, sandwiched around a 67-35 home victory over Westbrook. The Red Riots then got things going with a 65-38 home win over Bonny Eagle before downing visiting Noble (78-34), host Scarborough (73-38), host Sanford (63-53), visiting Lewiston (68-43) and host Cheverus (50-42).
Entering this one, since the start of the 2001-02 season, South Portland clung to a 15-14 edge in the series (see sidebar, below), thanks to a sweep a year ago (64-58 in Portland and 71-66 at home).
Friday, Deering got out to a quick start and never trailed, although the Red Riots did make things interesting much of the way.
Both teams started sluggishly, but the Rams got a jumper from senior Malik White 45 seconds in and with 4:42 to go in the first period, senior Ben Williams made two free throws for a 4-0 lead.
South Portland got on the board 15 seconds later on a putback from junior Ruay Bol, then tied the score when junior Ansel Stilley hit a leaner, but White made a layup after a steal and after senior Max Chabot hit a 3-point shot, White did the same for a 12-4 lead.
After Stilley scored on a bank shot, junior Manny Chikuta set up junior James Sinclair for a layup. Bol set up Stilley for a layup in transition, but Deering junior Jean Claude Butera tipped home a missed shot to make it 16-8.
After Red Riots senior Matt Pelletier banked home a shot and Pelletier set up Bol for a layup, a layup by senior Anthony Lobor gave the Rams an 18-12 advantage after one period.
In the first quarter, South Portland gave the ball away nine times.
It appeared the Rams were going to pull away early in the second quarter, as Williams made two foul shots, junior Raffaele Salamone scored on a leaner in the lane, then made a layup for a 24-12 lead, but the Red Riots roared back.
A putback from sophomore Riley Hasson ended Deering’s 8-0 run and a 4 minute, 45 second drought and sparked the rally.
Bol followed with a jumper, Hasson knocked down a 3, junior Deandre White scored on a leaner and with 31.1 seconds to go before halftime, White buried a 3 to tie the score, 24-24.
South Portland had a chance to go on top before the break, but turned the ball over and off an inbounds set, with 3.9 seconds remaining, Butera passed to Salamone for a layup and a 26-24 advantage.
The score remained close in the third quarter.
A Bol free throw pulled the Red Riots within a point, but Chabot was fouled while shooting a 3 and made two free throws to keep the Rams on top. After Lobor scored on a putback, South Portland again pulled within a point, as senior Sam DePaolo drove for a layup and Stilley laid the ball in with his left hand to make it 30-29.
Again, Deering refused to relinquish the lead, as Williams made a layup, then Williams put home his own missed shot for a 34-29 lead.
Stilley countered with two foul shots and after a free throw from Lobor, a leaner from Red Riots junior Moses Oreste, a former Ram, cut the deficit to 35-33.
Deering got a layup from Sinclair, but Bol drove for a layup. After Lobor hit a baseline jumper, Oreste set up senior Jack Fiorini for a jumper to again pull South Portland within two, 39-37, but the Red Riots would draw no closer.
After Chikuta scored on a layup, Lobor added a free throw, but an Oreste layup made it 42-39 Rams heading for the fourth period.
Where Deering pulled away and didn’t look back.
With Fiorini contending with three fouls and with senior teammate Jordin Jackson unavailable due to an injury suffered in practice Thursday, the Rams knew they could pound the ball down low to Salamone and sure enough, Salamone, thanks to some nifty footwork, scored successive layups to push the Rams’ lead to 46-39.
“We were trying to get the ball inside and go at (Fiorini),” said Salamone. “He’s the key to their offense and defense. We wanted to get him out of the game.”
“We were getting the ball to Malik in the corner,” Wing said. “He’ll hit the 3 if you don’t guard him. That isolated Raffaele on Fiorini. He made some strong footwork moves and became a finisher.”
Foul troubles quickly became the least of South Portland’s worries as the Rams added to their lead.
First, Williams stole the ball and somehow banked home a shot from a tough angle.
Then, after a Red Riots’ timeout, DePaolo set up Fiorini for a layup, but Lobor scored on a putback, Williams sank two free throws, Lobor made two foul shots, Williams made a layup after a steal, Williams hit two free throws and with 3:39 to go, Butera’s layup capped an 18-2 surge and gave Deering a commanding 60-41 advantage.
After Fiorini ended the run with two free throws, Rams junior Machar Nguany scored on a layup. Oreste made a short jumper and Fiorini sank a free throw for South Portland’s final point before Nguany made a layup after a steal and a layup after a steal from junior Orey Dutton capped Deering’s 66-46 victory.
“We picked up momentum and wore them out running up and done,” Salamone said. “We emphasized pushing the ball at halftime and we did that in the second half.”
“The objective is to run really fast and pressure and force turnovers,” Lobor said. “That’s how we win games. That’s how we play. Coach wants us moving as fast as possible. We pushed it a little too fast and turned it off in the second quarter, but we recovered and finished strong.”
“We anticipated them playing a 1-3-1 (zone) and we worked on a new look to attack it and it got what we wanted,” Wing added. “We anticipated them making a run and they did, but at halftime, we emphasized not turning the ball over, talking in transition and running as fast as we could. I told them it might not pay dividends that play, but it would in the fourth quarter. We want to make conditioning a factor and (a 24-7 run) in the fourth quarter, there it was.”
Williams led all scorers with 16 points, 12 which came after halftime, and also had seven rebounds and four steals.
Lobor had a coming out party with a double-double of 12 points and 13 boards.
“Before the game, Coach said I only had eight offensive rebounds all season, so I worked as hard as I could to show him I had the ability and I got those rebounds,” said Lobor, who nearly matched his season total with seven offensive rebounds.
“I challenged Anthony today,” Wing said. “I was somewhat amazed he only had eight offensive boards. He’s capable of so much more. You saw him respond. It’s great as a coach when you challenge a player and he responds accordingly.”
Salamone added 10 points and six rebounds, White had seven points, Chabot (three steals) five, Butera, Nguany and Sinclair four apiece and Chikuta and Dutton two each.
Deering turned the ball over 20 times, but had a 36-34 rebounding advantage (17 of which came on the offensive end) and made 14 of 25 free throws.
The last time the Rams started a season 9-0 was in 2005-06, when they won their first Class A state title. Deering’s last 10-0 start came in 2000-01, when the Rams won their first 21 games before dropping a heartbreaker in the state final by one point to Bangor.
South Portland had just one player score in double figures, Stilley, who had 10 points. Bol finished with nine points, 11 rebounds and two steals, Fiorini had seven points, 10 boards and two steals, Oreste added six points, Hasson and White had five apiece and DePaolo and Pelletier finished with two each.
The Red Riots made 6 of 10 free throws, but were done in by 25 turnovers.
“Considering not one player really had a good game for us, we hung around,” Millington said. “It was a three-point game at the start of the fourth quarter. Sometimes in basketball, the timing of the run hurts you. They had a run at the right time. We didn’t take care of the ball and didn’t rebound very well. Deering’s really quick to the ball. It’s not easy to rebound against them. The kids are so competitive and were trying to get back in the game.
“Credit to Deering. They’re undefeated. I don’t accept losing to them and I think we can beat them, but I don’t think we would have been in this game at all at the beginning of the year. We’ve come a long way. It’s been hard for the kids because everything is new to them. It’s been hard for me because everything’s new. I’m seeing improvement.”
The teams meet again in the regular season finale Feb. 4 in Portland, but both will be tested on a regular basis in the meantime as they chase top ranking in their respective regions.
South Portland (now third behind Gorham and Massabesic in Class AA South) hopes to bounce back Tuesday when it faces Scarborough. The Red Riots then host Thornton Academy Saturday and play at Class A South power Falmouth in a playoff rematch on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 18.
“We’re already in the tournament and we have a tough schedule coming up,” Millington said. “We want to play our best basketball at the end of the year. Games like this help us improve.”
Deering (first in Class AA North) goes to the only other undefeated team in Class AA, Thornton Academy, Tuesday night. Two days later, the Rams get their first shot at rival Portland, the defending Western A champion, when the Bulldogs pay a visit. Next Saturday, vastly improved Massabesic comes to Deering.
“I think we can go as far as we want,” Salamone said. “We’ve accomplished a lot, but we’re looking forward to going farther. We have to cut out turnovers. We turn the ball over too much. Crashing the boards is another thing we’re putting an emphasis on right now. We’re starting to mesh.”
“There was no looking past this game at all and we’ll take it one game at a time and that will be our mentality again next week,” Wing said. “We’ll have, as of right now, three undefeated teams in a row, then Oxford Hills. It’s a big week against quality teams. It will separate the men from the boys.”
Deering senior Ben Williams, who led all scorers with 16 points, is fronted by South Portland senior Jack Fiorini and also defended by junior Ansel Stilley during a drive to the basket.
South Portland junior Ruay Bol skies over Deering senior Anthony Lobor (23) and junior Raffaele Salamone.
Deering senior Malik White goes up for a shot as South Portland senior Sam DePaolo defends.
Deering junior Raffaele Salamone wrests a rebound away from South Portland senior Jack Fiorini.
Deering senior Max Chabot knocks down a 3-point shot.
Deering senior Anthony Lobor presses South Portland senior Sam DePaolo.
South Portland 64 @ Deering 58
@ South Portland 71 Deering 66
Deering 81 @ South Portland 71 (OT)
@ Deering 63 South Portland 53
Deering 58 @ South Portland 52 (OT)
South Portland 53 @ Deering 38
Deering 40 @ South Portland 29
@ Deering 49 South Portland 38
South Portland 50 @ Deering 39
@ South Portland 86 Deering 64
South Portland 62 @ Deering 58
@ South Portland 62 Deering 50
Western A quarterfinals
South Portland 63 Deering 36
@ South Portland 79 Deering 65
@ Deering 69 South Portland 50
Deering 58 @ South Portland 50
South Portland 45 @ Deering 42
@ Deering 52 South Portland 47
@ South Portland 54 Deering 53
Deering 77 @ South Portland 35
@ Deering 82 South Portland 38
@ Deering 63 South Portland 44
@ South Portland 58 Deering 55
Western A preliminary round
@ South Portland 44 Deering 42
South Portland 51 @ Deering 47
@ South Portland 56 Deering 51 (OT)
Deering 77 @ South Portland 47
@ Deering 88 South Portland 61
Western A preliminary round
@ Deering 81 South Portland 46