Deering senior Jean Claude Butera goes up for a layup as Thornton Academy senior Evan Christensen defends during the Golden Trojans’ 56-53 win Thursday night.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
TA- 13 11 19 13- 56
D- 6 10 21 16- 53
TA- Keohan 7-1-16, Christensen 5-2-12, Mckenzie 3-0-9, Fogg 2-3-7, Boudreau 2-0-6, Mitchell 2-2-6
D- Onek 4-2-11, Salamone 3-3-9, Sinclair 4-1-9, Chikuta 4-0-8, Butera 3-0-7, Nguany 3-1-7, Germain 1-0-2
TA (6) Mckenzie 3, Boudreau 2, Keohan 1
D (2) Butera, Onek 1
PORTLAND—For the first time this season, Thornton Academy’s boys’ basketball team got pushed for 32 minutes.
But the Golden Trojans pushed back.
And as a result, they’re still unbeaten, while the team they vanquished, Deering, has to regroup as the regular season hits the midway pole.
Thursday evening, in a showdown of two teams who hope to play into March, the host Rams came out sluggish and before they knew what hit them, trailed by a 10-0 score.
Deering would kick into gear and twice drew within a point in the second period, but Thornton Academy closed the first half on a 7-0 run to lead, 24-16, at the break.
The Golden Trojans led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, but the Rams went on a 9-3 surge, capped by an old-fashioned three-point play from senior James Sinclair, to cut the deficit to 43-37, heading for the final stanza.
There, Deering cut the deficit to one again, 44-43, when sophomore Ben Onek had a shot goaltended with 6:13 to go.
Thornton Academy scored the next nine points, however, to seemingly put it away, before an 8-0 Rams’ run, capped by an Onek coast-to-coast layup, made it 53-51 with 2:05 to go.
In the waning moments, Deering twice went to the line with a chance to tie the score, but the Rams couldn’t make their free throws and late foul shots from freshman William Mitchell and senior Evan Christensen allowed the Golden Trojans to cling to a 56-53 advantage.
Deering had one final chance, but a 3-point attempt from senior Jean Claude Butera as time expired was off target and Thornton Academy escaped.
The Golden Trojans won at Deering for the first time in over 14 years, improved to 9-0 and dropped the Rams to 7-2 in the process.
“We fell short,” lamented Deering coach Todd Wing. “You can’t spot a team a 10-point lead and play from behind the entire time. It’s hard to come back and beat a good team like that.”
Both squads were highly touted entering the season and haven’t disappointed.
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 and rolling at Cheverus Friday, 67-48.
Thornton Academy passed its first eight tests with varying degrees of ease. After opening with a 55-34 win at Marshwood, the Golden Trojans rolled over visiting Scarborough (85-56), won at Biddeford (61-50) and Sanford (69-50), at home over Noble (82-53) and Bonny Eagle (56-40), at Scarborough (74-51) and at Gorham (61-40).
Entering play Thursday, Deering had won 12 of the past 17 meetings versus Thornton Academy (including the last three) dating to the 2003-04 season (see sidebar, below).
This time around, the Rams looked to handle the Golden Trojans again, but instead, Thornton Academy earned its first win over Deering since a 49-40 overtime victory in the 2013 Western A quarterfinals, their first in the regular season since a 61-57 home triumph Dec. 22, 2009 and their first at Deering since Dec. 17, 2002.
Deering dug an early hole and spent the rest of the first half trying to dig its way out.
Thornton Academy got the jump 45 seconds in when Christensen took a pass from senior Austin Boudreau in transition and made a layup.
Boudreau, who broke the program record for 3-pointers in a game (10) Tuesday versus Gorham, and made an appearance on Rich Eisen’s national radio show Wednesday, then picked up where he left off 48 hours prior, draining a long 3-pointer.
Senior John Fogg made two free throws, then hit one more and with 3:31 to go in the opening quarter, Christensen made a reverse layup in transition for a quick 10-0 lead.
“We had a lack of energy,” Wing said. “But there’s never an excuse for that in any game, especially a game like tonight. It’s a learning experience.”
The Rams finally broke the ice 19 seconds later when senior Raffaele Salamone made a layup while being fouled and he added the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play.
After Golden Trojans junior David Keohan buried a 3, Sinclair scored on a putback and senior Machar Nguany made a free throw to pull the Rams within 13-6 after eight minutes.
Deering then started the second period strong and got within a point, but couldn’t get over the hump.
Nguany sparked a rally with a bank shot and a putback to cut the deficit to three.
After Christensen got two points back with a driving layup, Salamone made two free throws and senior Manny Chikuta drove for a layup to cut the deficit to one point, 15-14, with 5:51 left in the half.
Mitchell stemmed the rally with a layup, but Nguany’s putback again pulled the hosts within one, 17-16, with 4:01 to go in the half.
Deering then went cold again and the Golden Trojans closed the half on a 7-0 surge.
After Mitchell made a bank shot, senior Avery Mckenzie drained a 3 and Christensen drove for a layup and a 24-16 advantage heading to halftime.
Christensen led all first half scorers with eight points. Nguany paced the Rams with six, but they were hindered by 10 turnovers.
The third period resembled the first, with Thornton Academy opening up a big lead and the Rams coming back again.
After Butera started the second half with a 3, Keohan made consecutive baskets, a hook shot and a driving layup.
Butera answered with a bank shot, but in transition, Christensen set up Keohan for a layup to push the lead to 30-21.
Onek hit a leaner, but Mckenzie sank a corner 3 and after Salamone scored on a bank shot, Mckenzie made another 3-pointer and with 4:19 left, Koehan’s layup extended the advantage to 38-25.
After Onek drained a 3, Fogg countered with a reverse layup, but Deering closed the quarter strong.
After Salamone hit a leaner in the lane, Sinclair banked home a shot.
Boudreau countered with a long 3-pointer, but Rams freshman Darryl Germain scored on a leaner and with 2.8 seconds left, Sinclair scored on a putback, was fouled and hit the free throw to make it a 43-37 contest heading for the fourth period.
There, Deering fought to the end, but Thornton Academy didn’t buckle.
Keohan started the scoring in the final stanza with a free throw, but after a nice move, Salamone made a layup, Butera scored on a putback and with 6:13 showing, Onek had a layup blocked, but the shot hit the backboard first, leading to a goaltending call, and just like that, the Rams only trailed by one, 44-43.
Once again, the Golden Trojans responded, as Keohan hit a baseline jumper, Christensen converted a three-point play after a steal, Christensen set up Fogg for a layup and with 4:17 left, Fogg fed Keohan for a layup after a backdoor move, stretching the lead to 53-43.
Deering wasn’t quite done, however, as it got the next eight points.
After Chikuta hit a jumper, Onek made two free throws. Chikuta scored on a putback, then, with 2:05 to go, Onek grabbed a rebound on defense, then raced all the way to the basket for a layup.
Onek was fouled on the play, but couldn’t convert and Thornton Academy still led by two.
After Mitchell missed a 3, Salamone got the ball inside and was fouled with 1:32 left.
Salamone had a chance to tie the score, but he missed both free throw attempts. Mckenzie got the rebound and the Golden Trojans milked the clock down to 39.5 seconds when Keohan was fouled.
Keohan then missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Mckenzie got the offensive rebound and got the ball to Boudreau, who was fouled.
Boudreau missed the front end of his one-and-one and Salamone, falling out of bounds, saved the rebound to Chikuta, giving the Rams another chance.
With 15.7 seconds left, Salamone again was denied in close, but again was fouled and he had a second chance to even the score.
Salamone wasn’t able to convert, however, missing both.
“We just have to shoot (free throws),” Wing said. “There’s no magic formula. You have to be confident in your shot. Going 7-for-16 just isn’t good enough.”
Deering senior Orey Dutton got the offensive rebound, but was stripped of the ball and with 11.8 seconds to go, Mitchell was fouled.
Mitchell went to the line and made both free throws to make it a two-possession game.
The Rams raced down and got a layup from Chikuta to make it 55-53, but Thornton Academy got the ball into Christensen, who was fouled.
Christensen missed his first free throw, but made the second and with 5.8 seconds remaining, Deering had one final chance.
The Rams raced the ball across midcourt, but the Golden Trojans limited their options and the ball came to Butera as time wound down.
Butera did get a shot off before the horn, but it was off target and Thornton Academy escaped with a 56-53 victory.
“That wasn’t the shot we wanted,” Wing said. “It was a broken play. They took away what we wanted.”
“It’s a big win,” Christensen said. “We came in and played well. Getting that lead really helped us, especially when they went on a run at the end. They were killing us on the glass for a little bit, but we didn’t let them get second-chance points.”
Keohan led all scorers with 16 points. Christensen had 12 points, six assists, six rebounds and four steals.
“Austin can shoot and teams have to face-guard him, but we can all score,” Christensen said.
Mckenzie added nine points (to go with four rebounds and four steals), Fogg had seven and Boudreau (six boards) and Mitchell finished with six apiece.
Thornton Academy made 8 of 15 free throws and overcame 14 turnovers.
The Rams were led by Onek, who had 11 points (as well as six rebounds and two blocks). Salamone (four rebounds, three steals) and Sinclair had nine points apiece, Chikuta added eight, Butera and Nguany (six boards) had seven each and Germain finished with two. Dutton didn’t score, but had five rebounds and helped neutralize Boudreau.
Deering had a 32-25 rebounding advantage, but only made 7 of 16 foul shots and committed 16 turnovers.
“Our game plan was to tire (Austin) out, but we struggled stopping dribble penetration,” Wing said. “We did a good job getting them in foul trouble early on, but we didn’t capitalize on it. I look for consistency throughout the game. At Cheverus, we had that. Tonight, we had peaks and valleys and our valleys were too low.”
The road gets no easier for either squad.
Thornton Academy starts the second half of its regular season slate Saturday when it hosts Bangor. The Golden Trojans are at Massabesic Monday, then have a pivotal home showdown versus South Portland Friday of next week in a contest that will go a long way toward determining the top seed for the AA South tournament. A trip to defending Class AA champion Portland follows Jan. 24.
“This helps our confidence, but we still have more work to do,” Christensen said. “I look forward to those big games. We have to rebound better. We have to take better shots at the end of games.”
Deering’s gauntlet continues Saturday when South Portland pays a visit. Tuesday, the Rams go to Portland.
“It’s going to come down to simple basketball plays,” Wing said. “Boxing out, taking care of the ball and executing. We have to get better in those phases of the game if we’re going to beat good teams.”
Deering senior Machar Nguany goes to the basket as Thornton Academy senior Austin Boudreau defends.
Deering junior Ricky Despacho soars for a shot over Thornton Academy junior Jack Webb.
Deering senior Jean Claude Butera hounds Thornton Academy senior Evan Christensen.
Deering senior Raffaele Salamone goes up for a shot.
Deering senior Manny Chikuta drives to the basket.
Deering sophomore Ben Onek leans in for a shot as Thornton Academy senior Evan Christensen defends.
Deering 58 @ TA 54
Deering 63 @ TA 58
@ Deering 77 TA 55
@ Deering 77 TA 28
Western A quarterfinal
TA 49 Deering 40 (OT)
Deering 62 @ TA 41
@ Deering 50 TA 48
Western A quarterfinal
Deering 41 TA 33
@ TA 61 Deering 57
@ Deering 59 TA 52 (OT)
Western A quarterfinal
TA 51 Deering 48
@ TA 62 Deering 61 (OT)
@ Deering 43 TA 40
Western A quarterfinal
TA 64 Deering 50
Deering 85 @ TA 61
Deering 81 @ TA 44
@ Deering 57 TA 52