PORTLAND—Back on Feb. 25, the shot went in.
Saturday night, it didn’t.
The Deering boys’ basketball team wasn’t able to equal the thrill of last year’s regional final victory over Bonny Eagle when the Scots paid a visit for a compelling early season showdown, as this time, the luck shifted to the visitors.
In a battle of two of the best teams in the region, the Rams appeared en route to their sixth straight win this winter as they seized control early in a foul-plagued first half and extended their advantage to 10 points in the fourth period, but foul trouble did Deering in.
With seniors Labson Abwoch and Dominic Lauture watching from the bench after fouling out, the Rams couldn’t generate offense and the opportunistic Scots pounced.
Bonny Eagle closed the game on a 9-0 run, taking its first lead with just 53 seconds remaining when junior standout Dustin Cole drew the defense and passed to senior C.J. Autry, who calmly buried a 3 from the wing for a 45-44 advantage.
Like it did in last year’s regional final on Patrick Green’s now legendary heave, Deering had a chance to break the Scots’ hearts at the horn, but senior Thiwat Thiwat’s spinner rolled around the rim and off and Bonny Eagle held on to give both teams a 5-1 record as 2012 gives way to a new year.
“It’s a good experience for these guys,” said Rams coach Dan LeGage. “(Bonny Eagle’s) a good team with good guard play. They made shots when they had to. We had an opportunity to win the game.”
Deering and Bonny Eagle have made a habit out of playing palpitating contests over the past decade.
Prior to Saturday, since the start of the 2003-04 season, the Rams had won eight of 12 meetings, but eight of those games were decided by six points or fewer and a pair went at least one overtime (please see sidebar).
Last year was a perfect example as Deering edged the host Scots, 57-55, in overtime, in the regular season, then survived in the regional final on Green’s prayer, which produced a 45-42 victory and allowed the Rams to go on and defeat Hampden Academy, 59-50, to win the school’s second Class A title.
This winter, both teams have lived up to billing as two of the top contenders in Western A.
Deering entered the game having vanquished visiting Thornton Academy (77-28), host Marshwood (51-39), host Massabesic (80-40), visiting Noble (67-44) and host Sanford (47-39).
Bonny Eagle was a 65-53 home victory over Sanford in its opener, then downed host Massabesic (68-41) and visiting Thornton Academy (62-29), before losing a tough one at Portland (55-52). Prior to coming to Deering, the Scots handled visiting Gorham, 78-64.
Saturday’s game was a 32-minute battle which featured physical play, staunch defense, timely shots and a scintillating ending.
The Rams appeared in control early as Thiwat took a pass from Lauture and made a layup 16 seconds in and Abwoch (from Thiwat) made a layup after a spin move for a quick 4-0 lead.
Bonny Eagle got in the scoring column when Autry made a foul shot after an offensive rebound. Sophomore Ben Malloy then tied the score with a 3-ball.
Deering went back on top as Abwoch scored on a leaner while being fouled and added the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play.
After Cole got in the scoring column with a free throw, Abwoch converted another three-point play to make it 10-5.
Cole answered with a floater, but Rams sophomore sharpshooter Liam Densmore made his presence felt with a 3 and Lauture added a foul shot before Cole hit a pullup jumper in the final minute to pull the Scots back to 14-9 after one stanza.
The second period featured almost non-stop whistles as neither team could get into an offensive flow and both squads were hindered by foul trouble.
Fittingly, a free throw from Malloy started the period. Deering countered on a putback from unheralded senior Medhane Haleform, but Cole, after a patented crossover dribble, buried a jump shot.
The Rams made it 18-12 when Haleform sank two free throws and pushed their lead to seven on a foul shot from senior Kevin Masse.
Bonny Eagle got two points at the line, courtesy Malloy, but Lauture made a layup after a steal and with just under five minutes to play in the half, Deering had a 21-14 lead.
Cole answered with a 3 and after Thiwat was whistled for his third foul, Scots senior Kyle Wright made a free throw to make it a one possession contest.
With 3:30 to go before halftime, Lauture drained a 3 and 11 seconds later, Cole was called for his third foul, a charge, but he stayed on the floor and was fouled while shooting a 3. Cole made two free throws and with 2:02 to play in the half, Malloy made two free throws to cut the deficit to two, 24-22.
The Rams closed the half strong, however, as Densmore hit another 3 and after a Densmore steal, Haleform finished with a layup to put Deering ahead, 29-22.
In the first 16 minutes, the teams combined for 25 fouls as several players were shackled with three.
The Rams had a chance to gain some separation in a cold shooting third period, but to their lament, couldn’t put the Scots away.
After Autry opened the second half with a jump shot, senior Jon Thomas fed sophomore Zach Dubiel for a layup and just like that, the Bonny Eagle deficit was just three, 29-26.
Deering responded as junior Ahmed Ismail Ahmed sank a jumper and Abwoch did the same, but Malloy quickly countered with a 3-pointer.
With 3:17 to play in the third, Ahmed sank two foul shots. Eleven seconds later, Lauture was called for a fourth foul, but a pretty putback from Masse (a floater in one motion) gave the Rams a seemingly secure 37-29 lead heading for the fourth quarter.
The final stanza would be one of great frustration for Deering, while the Scots were able to persevere and exorcise the ghosts of last season.
Just 19 seconds in, an Abwoch jumper from the elbow gave the Rams their biggest lead, 39-29, but 34 seconds later, Cole was fouled while shooting a 3 and he sank all three free throws.
With 6:50 left, Densmore canned another 3 and Deering was up, 42-32.
While the Rams appeared in good shape, in truth, it was their highwater mark.
A steal and layup by Thomas started the Bonny Eagle comeback. Malloy then fed Dubiel for a layup to cut the deficit to six.
With 3:49 remaining, Abwoch went to the line and coolly made two free throws for a 44-36 advantage, but Deering wouldn’t score again.
Things turned 18 seconds later when Abwoch got his fifth foul.
“Abwoch is a great player,” Bonny Eagle coach Phil Bourassa said. “Anytime you take him off the floor, it changes the dynamic of the game. That was a huge factor.”
With 3:17 to go, Malloy sank another 3 to cut the deficit to five.
Then, with 2:42 left, Lauture was whistled for his fifth foul and Cole made one of two free throws to make it a 44-40 game.
The Scots kept the defensive pressure on and with two key offensive options sidelined, the Rams weren’t able to control the ball, turning it over, which led to an easy Cole layup.
Just like that, with 1:56 left to play, Bonny Eagle was only down two points, 44-42.
The Scots got a scare seven seconds later when Cole picked up his fourth foul, but he managed to stay on the floor and with 1:27 remaining, Thiwat travelled and the visitors had a chance to tie or take the lead for the first time.
With 1:23 left, Malloy had a good look at a 3 up top for the lead, but it missed and Thiwat snared the rebound.
The Rams couldn’t take advantage, however, as they turned the ball over with 1:10 showing.
This time, Bonny Eagle struck.
The ball, as expected, came to Cole, who made a move as if he was going to drive the lane, but when two defenders collapsed on him, he dished to a wide open Autry in the left corner and Autry didn’t hesitate to fire a 3 that found nothing but net.
For the first time in just over 31 minutes of play, the Scots were ahead.
“I was nervous, but I knew the shot was going in,” said Autry. “I was hoping (Cole) wouldn’t lose (the ball). He made a great play with it and I made the shot.”
“I’m absolutely comfortable with (Autry) taking that shot,” said Bourassa.
The hosts could only tip their cap.
“(Cole) found that guy on the kickback, which is a tough pass,” said LeGage. “He’s probably one of the few kids who can make that pass. He commands so much attention and he’s become a better passer. He made a really good pass. Autry still had to hit the shot and he did.”
Deering had plenty of time to answer, but with 15.2 seconds remaining, a Densmore leaner just missed and Cole rebounded and was fouled.
Cole left the door open a crack for a the hosts when he missed the front end of a one-and-one and Ahmed rebounded.
LeGage called timeout and with 12.4 seconds to go, the Rams looked to set up a play that would break Bonny Eagle’s spirit once again.
It almost happened.
As time wound down, Deering got the ball in to Thiwat, who spun to elude two defenders. As a third closed in, Thiwat launched a shot with 2 seconds showing.
It found the rim, skittered around the iron, then, to the Scots’ joy and relief and to Deering’s agony, rolled off. Masse grabbed the rebound, but was smothered as the final horn sounded and Bonny Eagle had eked out the 45-44 victory.
“We wanted something inside,” said LeGage. “We were five feet away from the basket. It rimmed in and out. We had our shot. As a coach, what you try to do is put your kids in a position to win.”
“It’s really good,” Autry said. “I didn’t want to let (a last second loss) happen again. Almost every day, I thought about it. It’s an amazing feeling to get them back for that. Last year was an awful feeling. It’s good to get a win this time. We just had to keep our composure. We played great defense and got the win. It was all teamwork. We couldn’t have done it without each other. It was all defense in the fourth quarter.”
“I assumed they’d get it into the post,” Bourassa said. “We wanted to double. I’m not sure if we wanted to triple, but we did. It rolled out. We got lucky. He probably makes it six of 10 times. The toilet bowl didn’t flush.
“It’s always quite a journey when we play these guys. I have the utmost respect for Dan. You know their guys will be ready. It just happened to go our way tonight. The amount of stoppages in play and how aggressive (Deering) was playing defensively took us out of our game offensively in the first half. We didn’t look comfortable and that was obvious. We know we’re a very composed team. We were confident going into the fourth quarter. (Last year is) always in the back of our minds when you prepare for Deering. They earned that win. I think we earned this win. We’re different teams. You can’t really dwell on it. Their defense was very good tonight, but we rushed a little too much, turned the ball over a little too much and that really hindered our offense.”
The Scots were paced by Cole, who managed to produce a relatively quiet game-high 18 points and four assists. Malloy finished with 14 points (including three 3-pointers), Autry had six (including the biggest 3), Dubiel (who had a team-high five rebounds) added four, Thomas had two and Wright one. Bonny Eagle finished 14-of-24 from the free throw line.
For Deering, Abwoch had 14 points and a game-high five steals, Densmore added nine points, Haleform and Lauture six apiece, Ahmed four, Masse three and Thiwat two.
The Rams had a 31-17 rebounding advantage, as Abwoch finished with a game-high six and Ahmed, Masse and Thiwat each collected five.
Deering forced 18 Bonny Eagle turnovers, but committed an uncharacteristic 29, including 10 in the fourth quarter. The Rams were 10-of-15 from the charity stripe.
“I thought our guys played really good defense,” said LeGage. “We knew (Bonny Eagle would) make shots. To hold them under 50 points. that’s something we can use as motivation. We just have to clean some things up on offense. We got sloppy with the ball at times. We had a rash of turnovers that hurt us. What they did was play pretty good defense, which pushed us back a little bit. They were physical. We needed to adjust to that. We didn’t go to the basket as much as we should. We have three new guards in the backcourt. It’s a good experience for them. We’ll keep working. They brought out the things we need to work on. I liked our defense. That’s a good place to stay positive. As long we play defense, we’ll have a shot to win. We just have to get a little smoother on offense. Liam did a nice job off the bench making shots. Ahmed has given us a boost at times offensively. They have to continue to work on being consistent scoring. If they do, I think we’ll be OK.”
Bonny Eagle (now second to Portland in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) is back at it Wednesday, when it goes to Cheverus. The Scots have done a lot of their heavy lifting this winter, but still host South Portland, go to Scarborough and face other tests between now and February.
By then, Bonny Eagle could be a top threat to finally get over the hump.
“It’s a great win for us,” Autry said. “It feels good. We know we’re a great team. We have to keep doing it.”
“Hopefully this will build some momentum,” said Bourassa. “We have a huge game Wednesday at Cheverus. They’re a scrappy team. We look forward to preparing for them.”
Deering (fourth in Western A) has to quickly get over this loss, as it faces a series of tests. Wednesday, the Rams are at Kennebunk. Friday, they go to undefeated South Portland. Deering still has a second game with the Red Riots, two meetings versus city rivals Cheverus and Portland and a game with Scarborough.
It won’t be easy, but the Rams still have an opportunity to be the last team standing.
“As much as the loss hurts right now, there are a lot of good things to take away from it,” LeGage said. “We’ll go back and try to learn from it. We have SP and the in-town teams. It will be a battle every night. We have to try to turn it up a notch and get better.”
Deering senior Dominic Lauture goes strong to the basket.
Deering senior Kevin Masse leans in for a shot.
Deering junior Ahmed Ismail Ahmed goes up for a contested shot.
Deering sophomore Liam Densmore attempts to inbound the ball, but it’s kicked by Bonny Eagle sophomore Ben Malloy.
Deering senior Thiwat Thiwat attempts to drive past Bonny Eagle senior Jon Thomas.
Deering coach Dan LeGage buries his head in disbelief during Bonny Eagle’s late comeback.
Deering senior Labson Abwoch goes up over Bonny Eagle senior C.J. Autry during the teams’ regional final rematch Saturday night. Abwoch had a team-high 14 points, but Autry hit the game’s biggest shot, a 3 with 53 seconds left, which gave the Scots a 45-44 win.
More photos below.
BE- 9 13 7 16- 45
D- 14 15 8 7- 44
BE- Cole 5-7-18, Malloy 3-5-14, Autry 2-1-6, Dubiel 2-0-4, Thomas 1-0-2, Wright 0-1-1
D- Abwoch 5-4-14, Densmore 3-0-9, Haleform 2-2-6, Lauture 2-1-6, Ahmed 1-2-4, Masse 1-1-3, Thiwat 1-0-2
BE (5) Malloy 3, Autry, Cole 1
D (4) Densmore 3, Lauture 1
BE (17) Dubiel 5, Cole 4, Thomas 3, Wright 2, Autry, Dubay, Malloy 1
D (31) Abwoch 6, Ahmed, Masse, Thiwat 5, Haleform 4, Lauture 3, Densmore 2, Richards 1
BE (8) Cole, Wright 2, Autry, Dubay, Dubiel, Thomas 1
D (12) Abwoch 5, Masse 3, Lauture 2, Densmore, Thiwat 1
Deering 57 @ Bonny Eagle 55 (OT)
Western A Final
Deering 45 Bonny Eagle 42
Bonny Eagle 44 @ Deering 41
Western A semifinal
Bonny Eagle 43 Deering 34
Deering 64 @ Bonny Eagle 51
@ Deering 49 Bonny Eagle 45
@ Bonny Eagle 57 Deering 54
@ Deering 57 Bonny Eagle 51
Deering 69 @ Bonny Eagle 42
@ Deering 59 Bonny Eagle 43
Western A quarterfinals
Deering 44 Bonny Eagle 39
@ Bonny Eagle 68 Deering 64 (2 OT)