PORTLAND—Sunday, when the final Heal Points standings were released, the Deering and Scarborough boys’ basketball teams learned they would do battle in a Western Class A preliminary round playoff game Tuesday evening, but Monday, after school in Portland was canceled by the latest bout of snow, the game was moved to Wednesday.
Tuesday morning, however, word broke that the game had been moved back to Tuesday night and that put the Rams at a severe disadvantage, since they hadn’t practiced since the weekend.
In light of how Deering comported itself against the Red Storm, maybe Allen Iverson was right.
Who needs practice?
The Rams overcame not only a lack of practice, but a second half deficit and showed tremendous talent and character in the process, hinting that their tournament stay might be a long one.
Not surprisingly, Deering got off to a slow start, as Scarborough went up, 11-3, behind five quick points from senior Nate Wessel, but the Rams, behind the inspirational play of senior Garang Majok and another tremendous reserve performance from sophomore Raffael Salamone, got it together and took the lead early in the second period. The contest remained nip-and-tuck until halftime and the Red Storm, thanks to 15 points from senior standout Milani Hicks, went into the break up three, 34-31.
Hicks picked up a controversial third foul just before halftime, however, and that loomed large in the second half.
When Hicks tipped home a missed shot early in the third quarter, Scarborough had a 41-36 lead, but the game turned when Hicks was whistled for his fourth foul seconds later.
Deering then took advantage, going on an 18-2 run to break the game open.
The Red Storm pulled within 54-48 heading for the fourth period and was still down six, 57-51, with just over six minutes to play, but the Rams, behind undeniable junior Ben Williams, finished strong, pulling away to prevail, 78-62.
Majok had 21 points, Williams added 19 and Salamone finished with 16 to help trump Hicks’ 25 as Deering improved to 13-6, ended Scarborough’s season at 8-11 and advanced to meet No. 4 Gorham (13-5) in the quarterfinals Friday at 7 p.m., at the Portland Exposition Building.
“If there’s a team in the state of Maine who could overcome, it’s these guys,” said Rams coach Todd Wing. “These guys overcome on a daily basis. It’s great to see. People can learn an awful lot from this group of guys. They taught everyone a lesson in how to adjust.”
Both teams had their share of memorable moments in the regular season, but winning consistently was an issue.
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, the Rams bounced back with a 66-52 win at Westbrook and a 71-49 victory over Gorham, but the next time out, they couldn’t hold a double-digit second half lead and fell at home to South Portland, 64-58. After beating visiting Marshwood, 72-63, Deering lost at Windham, 71-60, but the Rams erupted and doubled up Massabesic, 96-48 and ran roughshod over visiting Gorham, 80-51, before falling at Portland, 65-62. Deering then won at Sanford (67-55) and at home over Scarborough (77-73) and Biddeford (68-50). After a 71-66 loss at South Portland, the Rams held off host Cheverus, 69-64, before falling at home to Portland in the finale, 66-44.
Scarborough rolled at Biddeford on Opening Night, 74-46. The Red Storm then beat visiting Westbrook, 55-47. After falling at Windham, 66-59, Scarborough beat host Noble (47-29), visiting Massabesic (69-44) and outlasted visiting Gorham in an overtime thriller, 74-70, before falling at South Portland, 66-43. An 80-47 home win over Biddeford was followed by losses at Thornton Academy (80-74), at home to South Portland (60-54) and at Marshwood (62-57). After downing visiting Windham (64-54), the Red Storm dropped a 68-50 decision at Bonny Eagle, lost a thrilling 78-71 home decision at Portland, fell at Deering (77-73) and at home to Cheverus (70-67) and after getting back on track with a 52-44 win at Sanford, Scarborough lost in its finale, 73-68, to visiting Thornton Academy.
The Rams held off the visiting Red Storm, 77-73, on Jan. 23. The teams had never met in the postseason.
They weren’t planning to meet for another 24 hours either, but those plans changed in a hurry Tuesday morning.
The issue stemmed from Deering not being able to practice Monday, due to Portland Public Schools cancelling school and afterschool activities. Since the Rams hadn’t practiced since Friday, they planned to practice Tuesday and play Wednesday, but their request was denied by the Maine Principals’ Association, who only allowed boys’ prelims on Tuesday (Cheverus and Marshwood also had to move their game up 24 hours).
That confusion, and the ensuing scrambling, led to confusion and disgruntled feelings.
“The guys deserved better from the MPA,” Wing said. “Portland schools made an intelligent decision to cancel practice yesterday for player safety. That was 100 percent the right choice. The MPA stresses equity, but that wasn’t the case. These guys deserved better.
“My day started off at 7:40 a.m. when I got the phone call that the game had been changed. About 10, I finally got my first cup of coffee. We scheduled a shootaround and had lunches ready. In the age of text messaging, there were about 100 texts over the course of the day. We got into the locker room at 3:30. We had a good laugh about it.”
The players took the schedule change in stride.
“I got a text around 8, before class started, saying, ‘Be ready to play at 7 tonight,'” Williams said. “We hadn’t practiced since Friday, but great teams overcome obstacles and we did.”
“We just battled through,” Salamone said. “We couldn’t change anything. We had a walk-through at 3, then we ate. We had a little time to bond and prepare.”
Back on the floor, while Deering was playing its first preliminary round game since a 44-42 loss at South Portland in 2004, Scarborough was taking part in its eighth.
The teams had no playoff history.
The Red Storm got the jump 28 seconds in when Wessel scored on a spinner. Senior Sam Freeman added a layup and with 6:02 to go in the first quarter, Wessel banked home a shot for a 6-0 lead.
Sixteen seconds later, the Rams got on the board when sophomore JeanClaude Nzenza hit a jump shot, but Hicks scored his first points on a layup. After Nzenza made a free throw, Hicks hit one and off an inbounds set, Freeman passed to Wessel for a hook shot which rolled in for an 11-3 advantage.
Deering would respond, as Majok scored his first point at the line and Salamone quickly made his presence felt with a consecutive layups. After Hicks made two foul shots, sophomore Moses Oreste hit a floater and Majok made two foul shots to pull the Rams within a point, but in the final minute, Scarborough senior Ian Corey scored on a putback while being fouled, then completed the old-fashioned three-point play with a free throw to make it 16-12 Red Storm after eight minutes.
Deering began the second quarter on an 8-0 surge to take its first lead.
After Salamone scored on a putback, he made two free throws to pull his team even. A left-handed jumper in the lane from Williams put the Rams on top and with 6;16 to play in the half, on the fastbreak, junior Malik White set up Williams for a layup and a 20-16 advantage.
After a timeout, Scarborough got a layup from Hicks after a steal, but White countered with a step-back 3 for Deering’s biggest lead of the half, 23-18.
The Red Storm then roared right back, as a floater and free throw three-point play from Hicks, a Hicks free throw and a 3-pointer from sophomore Emmett Peoples put them on top, 25-23.
A Salamone leaner tied the score, but Scarborough got a layup from junior Andrew Porada and a 3 from Freeman to go up five. Salamone answered with a leaner, but after a Peoples steal, the ball came to Freeman, who set up Hicks for a layup. Majok made a jumper in the lane, but Hicks countered with a long jumper.
Then, with 51 seconds left, in a play that will long be lamented in Scarborough, Hicks appeared to be fouled by Rams senior Stephen Ochan while shooting a 3, but instead of earning three free throws, Hicks, to the chagrin and apoplexy of his coaches and the Red Storm fans, was also called for a foul on the play, his third.
Not only did Hicks not earn three free throws, but the double foul gave possession to Deering.
“I hate to focus on one call, but I’ve never seen that call made in 40 years of coaching basketball,” said Scarborough coach Tony DiBiase. “I have no idea what that call was. That was a foul on the shot. I don’t know what the double foul was. There was no malice involved there. That was a huge call.”
With 36.9 seconds to go, the Rams got two free throws from senior Jacob Coon, but that only cut the Red Storm’s lead to 34-31 at the break.
Hicks had 15 points in the first half, while Salamone led Deering with a dozen.
The Rams got the first points of the second half, as Williams scored a layup, but Hicks hit a pullup jumper, then set up Freeman for a 3 and a 39-33 lead.
That would prove to be Scarborough’s highwater mark.
After Majok hit a 3, Hicks tipped home a missed shot, but with 5:54 to go in the third period, Williams got an offensive rebound and on his way back up to the basket, he drew Hicks’ fourth foul and the Red Storm’s sparkplug had to sit.
And Deering went on a run.
After Williams made a free throw, Majok scored on a putback and Williams tied the game on a putback.
After Majok made two free throws to put the Rams in front, Wessel banked home a shot with 3:39 left to tie the score, 43-43, but Deering would continue to surge.
Twelve seconds later, senior Max Chabot set up Coon for a backdoor layup to put the Rams ahead to stay. Coon set up Oreste for a jumper in the lane and after an Oreste steal, Chabot made a layup for a 49-43 lead.
After an emphatic Salamone block at the other end, DiBiase called timeout, but it didn’t stem the tide, as Coon scored on a putback, Salamone made a free throw and with 58 seconds to go in the third, Majok scored on a leaner to cap the 18-2 run and make the score 54-43.
“Hicks did his thing,” Wing said. “He was our main focus, but he still had a monster game. (Him coming out) was our opportunity, without question. We were able to turn them over a little bit. When the ball’s in his hands, positive things happen for them. With him out, we looked to exploit that and we got quick turnovers and points on the board.”
A 3 from Peoples and a bank shot from junior Andrew Porada pulled Scarborough within six, 54-48, heading for the fourth period.
When Freeman set up Wessel for a layup off an inbounds pass 25 seconds into the final stanza, the Red Storm drew within four, but they would get no closer.
Williams made a free throw and Majok scored on a putback to push the lead to 57-50. After Hicks made a foul shot, Majok hit a free throw and Williams sank two to make it 60-51.
With 5:08 left, Corey scored on a putback, but WIlliams drove for a layup and after a Williams steal, he set up Majok for a layup for a 64-53 advantage.
Hicks answered with two foul shots, but Majok made a layup and Majok set up Oreste for a layup to make it a 13-point contest.
With 3:25 left, Hicks was fouled by Majok and Majok was also called for a technical foul, but Hicks only sank one of three attempts. Then, at the other end, Williams drove for a layup, drew a foul and hit the free throw to cap a three-point play which essentially served as the dagger.
After Hicks drove for a layup and the final points of his stellar high school career, Salamone converted a three-point play and Williams raced coast-to-coast for a layup.
Down the stretch, the Red Storm got a layup from Porada and a putback from Porada before White made a layup to bring the curtain down on Deering’s 78-62 triumph.
“Coach was pumped before the game,” Williams said. “He just told us to execute and we did. We just had to play defense.”
“We started off slowly, but we kept battling,” Salamone said. “That’s what we’ve done all season. As long as we keep playing as a team and giving each other touches, it will be hard to stop us.”
“Scarborough’s the toughest 12-seed you’ll find,” Wing added. “We looked to attack because of foul trouble. We missed a lot of easy shots in the first half. I told the guys that they’re too good to miss those in the second half. We didn’t make any drastic changes.”
Majok had 21 points and eight rebounds to lead the way.
“Garang is the second leading rebounder int the league at 6-feet,” Wing said. “He provides us with a monster boost on the glass.”
Williams, who emerged as a star during last year’s postseason, had 19 points (15 in the second half) and grabbed five boards as he hinted that this playoff season may see him at his best again.
“I wasn’t going to let us lose tonight,” Williams said. “I told the team, ‘It doesn’t matter if we’re the 1 seed or the 5 seed, we have to show up and play a mental and physical game.’ We went and did that tonight.”
“When Ben gets the ball at the high post, people know he’s going to his left, but it’s easier said than done to stop him,” Wing said.
Salamone continued his dazzling development by scoring 16 points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking two shots.
“My footwork is really key,” said Salamone. “I just had to put the ball in the basket. (Assistant) Coach (Mitch) Ouellet’s worked with me on footwork. I just get more confident each game.”
“Raffael, we call him ‘Big Boy’ in the paint,” Williams said. “He’s come in and taken on a big role.”
“Raffael, what doesn’t he do for us?” Wing said. “He’s trusted the path we’ve had for him. Until a few games ago, he was still playing JV minutes. He provides toughness, energy and passion. His footwork’s gotten better. He’s a legitimate top post player in the league. He works hard in practice.”
Salamone wasn’t the only key cog off the bench, as Coon (three rebounds and a block) and Oreste (two assists, two steals) each had six points and Chabot (three assists) added two.
“Coon provides senior leadership,” Williams said. “He has energy. Moses has stepped up.”
“We can go nine, 10 deep,” said Wing. “Guys have stepped up because of injuries.”
White finished with five points and Nzenza added three.
Deering had a 28-26 rebounding edge and remarkably, considering the circumstances, only committed nine turnovers. The Rams hit 18 of 28 free throws.
Hicks had 25 points in his swan song, but it could have easily been more were he not sidelined with foul trouble. The all-around talent also had nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks and three steals.
“(Milani’s) such a great player,” DiBiase said. “If he’s not the best player in the league, he’s in the top two.”
Wessel finished with 10 points, three rebounds and two blocks. Freeman (four assists) and Porada (five rebounds) each had eight points, Peoples had six and Corey (six boards) added five.
The Red Storm turned the ball over 17 times and made just 10 of 19 free throws.
“I give the kids credit,” DiBiase said. “We tried to hang in there into the fourth and we were only down six, but we could have had a lead (with Milani on the court). Momentum definitely switched. The fouls added up and they were shooting two every time. I thought we played well for three-and-a-half periods, but we just couldn’t defend inside after I had to move Milani to the wing. Deering’s got a good team. I think we negated what they do well most of the game.
“Our regular season losses were close. It was a strange year in that we couldn’t close games out down the stretch. The seniors got us to the tournament three years in a row. We’ll keep chugging along. We’re always competitive. It’s whether we can make that next step.”
Deering beat Gorham in both meetings this winter: 71-49 in a Gorham “home game” at the Expo during the holiday tournament and 80-51 at Deering Jan. 13. The teams have no playoff history.
“We have to start faster and keep battling the whole game,” Salamone said. “We’re confident. We like being an underdog.”
“We’re focused on Gorham,” said Williams. “They’ll come ready. We’re not looking at (the semifinals at the) Civic Center or states. We have to do what we did tonight, play defense and execute.”
“We beat Gorham handily twice, but we won’t take them lightly,” Wing added. “They’re too good. They put up two duds this season and they both happened to be against us. We’ll have to prepare. They have quality players. We’ll have to execute our halfcourt offense, while sticking to our bread and butter, which is pressuring the ball and running. If we can execute that, hopefully we’ll come away with a ‘W.'”
Deering senior Max Chabot is hounded by two Scarborough defenders.
Scarborough senior Milani Hicks goes up for two of his 25 points.
Scarborough senior Sam Freeman collides with Deering senior Max Chabot.
Deering sophomore JeanClaude Nzenza tries to draw a charge on Scarborough senior Milani Hicks.
Deering sophomore Moses Oreste drives to the basket.
Scarborough senior Ben Wessel blocks the shot of Deering senior Garang Majok.
Deering junior Ben Williams goes up for a shot between Scarborough seniors Milani Hicks (4) and Ben Wessel. Williams had a huge second half and finished with 19 points.
Deering’s student section had plenty of cheer about Tuesday night.
Scarborough’s students also showed up in big numbers.
Deering senior Garang Majok goes up over Scarborough senior Milani Hicks during the teams’ Western A preliminary round playoff game Tuesday night. Both players had huge games, but Hicks’ 25 points were trumped by Majok’s 21 and his teammates’ contributions as the Rams advanced, 78-62.
Ben McCanna photos.
More photos below.
S- 16 18 14 14- 62
D- 12 19 23 24- 78
S- Hicks 8-9-25, Wessel 5-0-10, Freeman 3-0-8, Porada 4-0-8, Peoples 2-0-6, Corey 2-1-5
D- Majok 7-6-21, Williams 7-5-19, Salamone 6-4-16, Coon 2-2-6, Oreste 3-0-6, White 2-0-5, Nzenza 1-1-3, Chabot 1-0-2
S (4) Freeman, Peoples 2
D (2) Majok, White 1