PORTLAND—Deering’s boys’ basketball team doesn’t have a lot of size and doesn’t knock down a lot of outside shots, but the Rams can make life miserable for the opposition nonetheless.
That’s because nobody forces turnovers, gets out and runs and finishes like this budding contender and Saturday evening at the Portland Exposition Building, the Gorham Rams got to see up close just how disruptive Deering could be.
In a countable league contest played as part of the Red Claws Holiday Classic, Deering never trailed, taking a quick 6-0 lead. The Rams forced Gorham to turn the ball over seven times in the first period and eight points from junior standout Ben Williams produced a 16-10 advantage.
Deering then went cold for several minutes in the second quarter, but didn’t buckle and thanks to some stellar play from some unheralded talent off the bench, retained its six-point bulge, 26-20, at halftime.
Deering then put the pedal to the metal in the third quarter and erupted for eight quick points for its biggest lead. Gorham crept back within five, but Deering closed on an 8-2 run, as junior Malik White capped a strong period with his fifth and sixth points to help the Rams open up a healthy 48-37 advantage.
In the fourth quarter, Deering ended all doubt, as a layup from sophomore JeanClaude Nzenza capped a 12-2 surge to push the lead to 20 and the Rams never looked back en route to a 71-49 triumph.
Williams erupted for 26 points, four other players added eight points each and Deering improved to 5-1 and dropped Gorham to 3-3 in the process.
“The kids played hard,” Deering coach Todd Wing said. “We played our game. When we press and we run, we’re hard to prepare for. We got it done.”
For the second year in a row, a pair of Rams met in a countable game as part of the holiday tournament.
Last year, Deering prevailed, 77-51, improving to 9-0 all-time against Gorham.
So far this winter, both teams have enjoyed their moments.
Gorham won at Marshwood (60-51) and romped at home over Biddeford (75-34) to start the season. After a 64-41 loss at defending Class A champion Portland, in a game that was close for a half, the Rams beat host Windham (66-58), but lost at Scarborough in an overtime thriller, 74-70, Tuesday.
Deering held off visiting Bonny Eagle in its opener (64-59), then won at Thornton Academy (63-58) and at home over Noble (67-42). After letting a lead slip away in a 45-34 home loss to Cheverus last week, the Rams bounced back with a 66-52 win at Westbrook.
“We looked at (Cheverus) as just one loss,” Williams said. “We just got back to work to get better.”
Last winter, Deering handled Gorham, 77-51, at the Expo.
Saturday, Deering did it again and captured Rams’ bragging rights again.
It took all of 48 seconds for Deering to take the lead for good as Williams set up senior Garang Majok for a layup.
Williams then got himself on the board with a layup.
When senior Stephen Ochan made a layup after a steal with 5:34 to play in the first quarter, the Rams had a 6-0 lead.
Gorham got on the board when junior Sam Kilborn made a layup, but Williams answered with a left-handed runner.
Gorham got a putback from senior Nick Thibeault, but after a steal from junior Jason Thach, the ball came to White, who set up Williams for a layup and a 10-4 lead.
Gorham crept back within two on a leaner from junior Billy Ruby and a Ruby up-and-under layup, but Nzenza first made his presence felt with a coast to coast layup.
After two Ruby free throws pulled Gorham within two after sinking two free throws, Williams banked home a shot and sophomore Moses Oreste hit a baseline leaner for a 16-10 lead after eight minutes.
Deering had the pace in its favor, as seven forced turnovers allowed it to run and gun.
For much of the second quarter, however, the Rams appeared to be experiencing deja vu from the Cheverus game, going ice cold, as they didn’t score for over three minutes.
After Thilbeault made a layup and senior Tyler Bernaiche did the same, Gorham was within a basket, 16-14, but it never pulled even.
With 4:47 to play before halftime, Thach fed Williams for a layup to end a 3 minute, 57 second drought.
Gorham got another layup from Thibeault, but Majok answered with a layup.
With 3:34 left in the half, Thibeault made two foul shots, but after an Ochan offensive rebound, Oreste scored on a layup, Nzenza made a floater and Oreste hit a bank shot.
Late in the half, Gorham got a driving bank shot from senior Spencer Ruda, but Deering still enjoyed a six-point advantage, 26-20, thanks in large part to 10 points from Williams and 15 forced turnovers.
Deering then broke it open in the third period, as White would bookend the quarter with strong play.
White hit a baseline jumper, then drove for a left-handed layup to push the lead to 30-20 a little over a minute in.
“Malik has the potential to be a fantastic player in this league,” Wing said. “I get on him about going to the rim. He can score around the paint. He’s a great free throw shooter.”
Thach added a layup and with 5:11 to go in the frame, Oreste scored on a driving leaner to push the lead to 34-20.
After Bernaiche ended the run with a layup, Ruby scored on a runner off the glass and Bernaiche buried a 3 to cut the deficit to 34-27, but Williams countered with a timely driving layup.
Deering couldn’t quite pull away, however.
Ruby answered with a driving layup and junior Cody Elliott scored on a putback to make it a 36-31 contest. After Williams answered with a runner, Thibeault made a layup. Williams then finished a feed from Nzenza and made a layup, but Thibeault hit a leaner to again make it a five-point game, 40-35.
The rest of the quarter however, would belong to Deering.
In the final 80 seconds, the Rams went on an 8-2 run.
Williams got it started with a leaner. Senior Jacob Coon then made a layup after a steal. After Gorham got two points back on a layup from Thibeault, White was fouled after an offensive rebound and sank both free throws and as time wound down, Nzenza fed sophomore Raffael Salamone for a layup and a 48-37 lead.
Majok started the fourth period with a putback. Gorham answered with a 3-ball from sophomore Logan Drouin to pull within 10, but that would be as close as it got.
After Williams made a layup after a steal, Ruda hit a free throw, but White hit a left-handed runner.
After Elliott made one of two free throws following a technical foul call on Wing, Williams refused to allow Gorham to go on a run, as he stole the ball and made a layup, hit two foul shots, drove for another layup, then set up Nzenza for a layup and a commanding 62-42 advantage with 3:42 to play.
Thibeault answered wtih two free throws, but Nzenza made two of his own. After Ruda sank a 3 for Gorham, Majok made a layup after a steal, Salamone made a layup, then hit a free throw and Deering had its biggest lead, 69-47.
With 19.7 seconds to go, Gorham junior Jesse Southard made two free throws for his team’s final points. Salamone then scored on a putback to account for the 71-49 final score.
“We came in ready to fight,” Williams said. “Gorham’s a good team, one of the best teams in the state. It all starts in practice. Guys come off the bench ready to play, knowing what they’re doing.”
“Gorham came out in a zone which I figured they would, after seeing how Cheverus handled us, but we’ve worked on it and we showed we’re a good zone team too,” Wing said. “Our best zone offense is running the ball.”
Williams, who has emerged as one of the region’s best players, sparked the win with 26 points. He also had six rebounds, three steals and two assists.
“I wouldn’t really say it’s my team,” Williams said. “My team trusts me and I trust them. I was just trying to get to the rim and draw fouls.”
“(Ben) made those moves against a very quality team,” Wing said. “You never really expect that, but our system is made for him. He’s made for our system. It’s a dream marriage. He’s right at the point of it. He sets the tone and everyone else feeds off it.”
Majok (seven rebounds, two steals), Nzenza (three assists, three steals, two boards), Oreste and White all finished with eight points apiece.
Salamone added seven points (and four rebounds), while Coon, Ochan (three rebounds, three steals) and Thach had two points each.
It was a strong team performance.
“JeanClaude came off the bench strong,” said Williams. “Moses brought the pressure. Jacob Coon doesn’t start, but he brings energy.”
“We have guys who are hungry,” said Wing. “JeanClaude Nzenza came off the bench and put a lot of pressure on the point of that zone. Moses is a sophomore, like Ben last year, who could be a surprise player at the end of the year.”
Deering forced 27 turnovers and only gave the ball away 14 times. The undersized Rams won the rebounding battle, 35-28, produced 13 steals and made 7 of 13 foul shots.
For Gorham, Thibeault was the top scorer with 16 points. Ruby added 10, Bernaiche had seven, Ruda six, Drouin and Elliott three apiece and Kilborn and Southard two each. The Rams wound up 10 of 18 from the line.
Deering and Gorham both expect to return to the Expo for the Western A tournament in February, but in the meantime, each squad has work to do.
Gorham is back in action Tuesday at home versus Sanford. Visits from top contenders Bonny Eagle and Cheverus then loom.
Deering is home against dangerous South Portland Tuesday and welcomes Marshwood Friday.
The Rams continue to hint that they could be something special this season, but this group is clearly still a work in progress.
“We’re getting there, but we still have more work to do,” Williams said. “We have a lot of potential.”
“It’s a tough stretch against big players,” Wing said. “South Portland had a solid, statement win over Scarborough today. We’ll be ready for them.
“I feel as good as a coach will feel right now. (The guys are) where I want them to be with a lot of room to improve. We’re going to be a different team in February than we are in December.”
Deering 77 Gorham 51
@ Deering 66 Gorham 48
Deering 61 @ Gorham 54
@ Deering 62 Gorham 44
Deering 74 @ Gorham 40
@ Deering 53 Gorham 32
Deering 39 @ Gorham 36
Deering 51 @ Gorham 39
@ Deering 46 Gorham 40
D-16 10 22 23- 71
G-10 10 17 12- 49
D- Williams 12-2-26, Majok 4-0-8, Nzenza 3-2-8, Oreste 4-0-8, White 3-2-8, Salamone 3-1-7, Coon 1-0-2, Ochan 1-0-2, Thach 1-0-2
G- Thibeault 6-4-16, Ruby 4-2-10, Bernaiche 3-0-7, Ruda 2-1-6, Drouin 1-0-3, Elliott 1-1-3, Kilborn 1-0-2, Southard 0-2-2
G (3) Bernaiche, Drouin, Ruda 1