PORTLAND—Defending Class A state champion Deering is now the former champion.
Due to a loss to a team the Rams beat by 49 points just a couple months ago.
Saturday evening, in a boys’ regional quarterfinal at the Portland Exposition Building, second-ranked Deering was expected to handle No. 7 Thornton Academy, but despite ample opportunities to put the game away, the Rams weren’t able to do so.
After the first period ended with the Golden Trojans on top, 7-6, Deering opened the second quarter on a 9-0 run to seemingly take control. The Rams were ahead by six at halftime, but Thornton Academy took a short-lived lead midway through the third period. An 8-3 run put Deering on top, 29-25, heading for the fourth and when senior Medhane Haleform made a layup with 4:45 to go, the Rams led, 35-28, and appeared on the verge of advancing.
Instead, Deering didn’t score again the rest of regulation and the valiant Golden Trojans stormed back to tie the score on a driving layup from junior Quinn Richardson-Newton with 2:06 left. Each team had chances late in regulation, but couldn’t convert and the game went to overtime, where Thornton Academy extended its run to 12-0 before the Rams finally ended their untimely 7 minute, 33 second drought. Deering got no closer than three, however, turning the ball over five times in the extra session while the Golden Trojans made 10 of 13 foul shots in OT and went on to a stunning 49-40 victory.
Rams senior Labson Abwoch had 17 points, but it wasn’t enough to counter 15 apiece from Richardson-Newton and Thornton Academy senior Jeff Gelinas. Deering’s season ended at 15-4, while the Golden Trojans improved to 13-7 and advanced to set up an improbable semifinal round showdown with No. 3 Bonny Eagle Wednesday at 6 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
“A lot of it was self-inflicted, turnovers and missed free throws,” lamented Deering coach Dan LeGage. “(Thornton Academy) had a good game plan against us and they executed it. They made shots. Their best players showed up and played hard. We turned the ball over too many times and it caught up to us.”
Deering opened with wins over visiting Thornton Academy (77-28), host Marshwood (51-39), host Massabesic (80-40), visiting Noble (67-44) and host Sanford (47-39), then dropped an agonizing 45-44 home decision to Bonny Eagle. The Rams bounced back to defeat host Kennebunk (70-37), rallied for a palpitating 58-52 overtime win at South Portland, then defeated host Biddeford (69-51), visiting Cheverus (71-63), visiting Scarborough (54-50), host Westbrook (49-41) and visiting Windham (69-34). Back-to-back losses followed, 44-37 at Portland and 53-38 to visiting South Portland, but Deering defeated visiting Gorham (66-48) and host Cheverus (64-52) to get back on track, then closed with an inspirational 37-30 home win over Portland to match last year’s 15-3 mark and earn the No. 2 seed for the tournament.
Thornton Academy, which lost in the quarterfinals last season to Cheverus, struggled early, losing by 49 points at Deering, by 33 at Bonny Eagle, then dropping a two-point home decision to South Portland to begin 1-3. After beating Massabesic, the Golden Trojans were defeated by Gorham and Scarborough and suddenly found themselves 2-5, but they turned it around by winning seven in a row. Despite a 2-2 closing stretch, Thornton Academy’s 11-7 mark gave it the No. 7 seed and Tuesday, the Golden Trojans held off No. 10 Windham in the preliminary round, 50-37.
Entering Saturday night, the teams had split four prior playoff meetings (see sidebar). The most recent came two years ago, a 41-33 Deering victory in the quarterfinals.
Saturday, Thornton Academy showed that what happened back in early December meant nothing, as it capped the first weekend of the tournament with a stunning upset.
Any hopes the Rams had of quickly wrapping up a victory were erased when the Golden Trojans played them toe-to-toe in the first quarter.
A 3-ball from Deering junior Ahmed Ismail Ahmed opened the scoring. Gelinas answered with a leaner, but Abwoch made a layup, then added a free throw for a 6-2 lead. The Golden Trojans bounced back and got a jumper from Richardson-Newton and a 3 from Gelinas to lead, 7-6, after one quarter.
The Rams then put it together as Haleform scored on a putback, senior Dominic Lauture made a layup after a steal, Abwoch scored on a leaner while being fouled and hit the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play and senior Thiwat Thiwat scored on a leaner for a 15-7 lead.
Thornton Academy ended the 9-0 Deering run and a 5 minute, 16 second drought when Richardson-Newton made a free throw with 4:14 to go before halftime. He added another foul shot 32 seconds later, but after a steal from senior Kevin Masse, Abwoch made a layup for a 17-9 lead, which would prove to be the Rams’ biggest.
Richardson-Newton didn’t let the game get out of reach as Richardson-Newton made a leaner, then scored on a putback before a Abwoch layup gave Deering a 19-13 advantage at halftime.
The Rams could have had a bigger lead at the break, but 10 turnovers and 2-of-5 foul shooting held them back.
Deering hoped to deliver a knockout blow in the third quarter, but Gelinas opened with a jumper and sophomore Kevin Barrett made his presence felt with a layup to cut the deficit to just two. Abwoch scored on an up-and-under layup, but Barrett took a pass from Gelinas and made a layup and Barrett scored on a spinning bank shot while being fouled and added the free throw with 3:22 to go for a 22-21 lead, the Golden Trojans’ first since the end of the first period.
A 3-ball from sophomore Liam Densmore put the Rams back on top, but a driving layup from senior Adam Ek tied the game at 24-24.
Deering finished the stanza strong, however, getting a three-point play from Abwoch out of a timeout and adding two Densmore foul shots before Ek made one to make it a 29-25 Deering lead with eight minutes to play (or so we thought).
A leaner from junior Evan Wright pulled Thornton Academy back within two, but Ahmed made a pullup jumper and Lauture hit a floater for a 33-27 advantage with 5:45 remaining.
Barrett got a point back at the line, but Haleform took a pass from Thiwat and made a layup with 4:45 to go and the Rams were seemingly in command, up, 35-28.
Deering then went ice cold and the Golden Trojans came all the way back.
First, Richardson-Newton scored on a driving layup. After Haleform missed the front end of a one-and-one, Gelinas was fouled and made two free throws with 3:28 to play to make it 35-32.
With 2:06 to go, Richardson-Newton scored on a driving layup while being fouled and calmly sank his and-one free throw to tie the score, 35-35.
Lauture had a chance to put Deering back ahead 10 seconds later when he was fouled, but he too missed the front end of a one-and-one. Thornton Academy then ran the clock down to a minute before turning the ball over.
The Rams got a good look, but Lauture missed. Abwoch went up and kept possession and was fouled, but he missed both free throws and the Golden Trojans had the ball with a chance to win in.
Instead, Thornton Academy turned it over and Deering got the ball back with 6.2 seconds showing.
Hoping to repeat the magic of Patrick Green’s buzzer-beater to beat Bonny Eagle in last year’s tournament, Lauture raced up the floor and had a decent look, but his shot was too hard off the glass. It hung on the rim in tantalizing fashion for a split second, then fell harmlessly to the floor.
Abwoch easily won the overtime tip and Thiwat had a good look, but Gelinas blocked the shot. Barrett then put the Golden Trojans ahead for good on a spinner with 3:37 left in the four-minute OT.
“Kevin’s a good young player,” Thornton Academy coach Bob Davies said.
After Ahmed missed a shot for the Rams, the teams traded turnovers. Barrett missed an opportunity to stretch the lead as his layup was off the rim, but Ek stole the ball from Abwoch. At the other end, off an inbounds pass, Richardson-Newton fed Ek, who made a layup while being fouled by Ahmed. Ek added the free throw to complete the three-point play and with just 1:22 to go, Thornton Academy had a five-point lead, 40-35.
Ten seconds later, Abwoch finally ended Deering’s interminable 7:33 drought (and the Golden Trojans’ 12-0 run) with two foul shots, but Gelinas was immediately fouled and hit both free throws for a 42-37 lead.
The Rams turned the ball over and Barrett was fouled. Barrett made one of two attempts and junior Ahmed Ali kept hope alive with a 3-ball with 39.8 seconds to go on Deering’s first field goal in 8:06, which made it 43-40.
The Rams wouldn’t score again.
With 37.6 seconds remaining, Ek was fouled. He missed both attempts, but a huge offensive rebound from Gelinas allowed Thornton Academy to retain possession. Gelinas was fouled and he wasn’t about to miss, draining two free throws to push the lead back to five.
“We shoot a lot (of free throws) in practice,” Gelinas said. “We’re all confident at the line.”
“What a performance by Jeff,” said Davies. “He was great down the stretch. We hit big free throws. It’s a credit to the kids. They take them seriously in practice.”
After two more Deering turnovers, Gelinas sank two foul shots. Densmore missed a 3 and with 8.8 seconds showing, Richardson-Newton punctuated the upset with two free throws.
At 10:37 p.m., the Rams’ reign ended with the Golden Trojans’ 49-40 upset victory.
“We got it done,” Gelinas said. “We made some good stops at the end. Our defense turned into some offense and we got some easy points. We definitely wanted some revenge. The first game was embarrassing. It’s a long season and we got a lot better.”
“We got better all year long,” Davies said. “We knew going in that it was going to be a work in progress. It’s a different group from last year. In the beginning, we worked a lot on taking care of the ball and executing specific sets. Probably about the fifth game in, we worked on getting back to defense. At this age, kids can give up. Our guys didn’t. It’s a credit to them. They won tonight, but they would have acted like classy gentlemen if if they lost. I think the key is down the stretch, we didn’t turn the ball over. We kept possession of the ball and stayed strong.”
Gelinas and Richardson-Newton both had 15 points to pace Thornton Academy. Barrett added 11 (all in the second half and OT), Ek six and Wright two. Richardson-Newton led the Golden Trojans with seven rebounds, while Gelinas collected six. Thornton Academy had 10 steals (Wright led the way with three) and overcame 23 turnovers by making 20-of-28 free throws (10-of-13 in overtime).
“Kevin and Jeff are tough guys inside,” Davies said. “(Senior) Malcolm (Dopwell) did a good job when he was in there. Deering’s a good basketball team. We knew they’d get their shots. We had to contest everything and rebound.”
Thornton Academy will make an unexpected trip to the Civic Center Wednesday to face a Bonny Eagle (16-3) squad which handed the Golden Trojans a 33-point defeat Dec. 14 in Standish.
Few will like Thornton Academy’s chances, but after Saturday, pick against the Golden Trojans at your peril.
“We didn’t lose as bad to Bonny Eagle as we did to Deering, so hopefully we can pull another one out,” said Gelinas. “We know it will be a tough game. They’re small and quick.”
“Bonny Eagle’s probably the best shooting team in the tournament,” Davies said. “They probably have the best player in the tournament. That’s no secret. We’ll give it everything we’ve got. Hopefully they miss some shots they normally make.”
Deering was paced by 17 points, five rebounds and three blocks from Abwoch. Ahmed and Densmore had five points apiece, Haleform and Lauture (three steals) each finished with four, Ali had three and Thiwat added two (to go with five boards and three blocks).
The Rams had a 24-21 edge on the glass, but were ultimately doomed by 23 turnovers and 7-of-16 foul shooting.
Nothing came easily for Deering this year.
“I think this group, given what they dealt with injuries and illness, did a good job,” LeGage said. “Given all that, they really overachieved. The seniors, when this wears off and it will hurt for awhile, hopefully they’ll look back at their experience in our program as a positive one. One which made them better people and basketball players. Labson was a very good player dealing with some injuries. Thiwat struggled with health. That hindered him, but he worked hard every day. You have to give him credit.”
The Rams don’t just lose Abwoch and Thiwat, they also part with Haleform, Lauture and Masse.
Ahmed, Ali, Densmore and junior Kyle Richards, along with junior Chhorda Chhorn (who missed the season with a knee injury) return to pace next year’s squad.
“We’ve tried to make the program so we reload, we don’t rebuild,” LeGage said. “I hope we have some guys step up and keep Deering basketball competitive for awhile.”
Deering senior Kevin Masse defends Thornton Academy senior Jeff Gelinas.
Deering senior Dominic Lauture breaks away for a layup.
Deering senior Medhane Haleform shoots over Thornton Academy senior Jeffrey Gelinas.
Deering senior Thiwat Thiwat drives to the hoop while Thornton Academy sophomore Kevin Barrett defends.
Deering players show their disappointment in the waning moments of Saturday’s loss.
Deering senior Labson Abwoch is challenged on a drive to the basket by a Thornton Academy defender during the teams’ Western Class A quarterfinal round game Saturday night. Abwoch had a game-high 17 points, but the Rams’ reign as state champion ended with a stunning 49-40 overtime loss.
More photos below.
TA- 7 6 12 10 14- 49
D- 6 13 10 6 5- 40
TA- Gelinas 3-8-15, Richardson-Newton 4-7-15, Barrett 4-3-11, Ek 2-2-6, Wright 1-0-2
D- Abwoch 6-5-17, Ahmed 2-0-5, Densmore 1-2-5, Haleform 2-0-4, Lauture 2-0-4, Ali 1-0-3, Thiwat 1-0-2
TA (1) Gelinas 1
D (3) Ahmed, Ali, Densmore 1
TA (21) Richardson-Newton 7, Gelinas 6, Moses 3, Wright 2, Barrett, Dopwell, Ek 1
D (24) Abwoch, Thiwat 5, Densmore, Lauture 4, Masse 3, Ahmed, Ali, Haleform 1
TA () Wright 3, Barrett 2, Gelinas, Dopson, Ek, Moses, Richardson-Newton 1
D (4) Lauture 3, Masse 1
TA (5) Barrett 2, Dopwell, Gelinas, Richardson-Newton 1
D (6) Abwoch, Thiwat 3
2011 Western A quarterfinals
Deering 41 Thornton Academy 33
2009 Western A quarterfinals
Thornton Academy 51 Deering 48
2007 Western A quarterfinals
Thornton Academy 64 Deering 50
1965 Western LL quarterfinals
Deering 50 Thornton Academy 46