Deering handles Windham in Portland tuneup
PORTLAND—The Deering boys' basketball team knew full well what awaited it 48 hours down the road when it hosted Windham Tuesday evening.
But instead of being caught looking ahead, the defending Class A state champion Rams tuned up for the rival Bulldogs by taking care of the business at hand.
After a sluggish and sloppy first half, which saw Deering only hold a nine-point lead, 6-foot-7 senior Labson Abwoch made sure the Rams quickly ended all doubt the in the second half, personally scoring 10 points, as Deering opened a 22-point lead. The Rams never looked back from there and cruised to a 69-34 triumph.
Abwoch led all scorers with 22 points as Deering improved to 12-1, dropping the Eagles to 4-9.
"There's a lot of talk about Portland, so you automatically want to look at them," said Abwoch. "Coach (Dan LeGage) settled us down and told us one game at a time. We were playing more aggressive in the second half. They outworked us in the first half. Coach told us in the locker room to be more aggressive and it worked out for us. My teammates were looking for me and I just finished. I just went after them."
Windham lost six of its first eight games this winter, but has been much more competitive of late and handled visiting Cheverus (67-47) Friday.
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 (54-5) and host Westbrook (49-41).
A year ago, Deering won at Windham, 41-28.
Tuesday, the Rams never trailed, but took their sweet time icing the victory.
Deering raced to a 7-0 lead behind a layup from senior Dominic Lauture, a 3 from junior Ahmed Ali and a layup by Abwoch (assisted by senior Thiwat Thiwat).
The Eagles got on the board with 3:30 to play in the opening stanza when senior Tom McGowan made a free throw, but Rams senior Kevin Masse and Abwoch both hit a foul shot and Thiwat banked home a shot to make it 11-1.
After Windham got its first field goal, a layup from senior Connor Flynn, Abwoch scored on a putback to give Deering a 13-3 lead after one period.
The Rams wouldn't be as impressive in the second.
After the visitors scored first on a layup from senior Shaun Francoeur, Deering junior Ahmed Ismail Ahmed scored on a putback and Ali sank another 3 to make it 18-5, but junior Spencer Hodge made a layup and senior Dylan Weisser knocked home a jumper to pull the Eagles within 18-9.
A putback from Rams senior Medhane Haleform was countered by a Hodge jump shot and a 3-ball from sophomore Kevin Weisser to get Windham within six, 20-14.
Thiwat answered with a leaner, but was called for a technical foul on the play. Dylan Weisser made one of two free throws, but Abwoch countered with a driving layup.
Two Francoeur foul shots cut the Deering lead to 24-17, but Rams sophomore Liam Densmore, battling through illness, knocked down a 3 and Abwoch added a free throw to push the lead to 28-17.
After Windham got two foul shots from Dylan Weisser, Lauture set up junior Kyle Richards for a layup, but a runner from McGowan at the horn allowed the Eagles to remain within hailing distance, down, 30-22, at the break.
Deering then came out for the second half and delivered a knockout blow.
Abwoch hinted at a big third quarter to come when he made a short jumper 10 seconds in. Masse added a puback before Dylan Weisser made two free throws.
The Rams then got a layup from Abwoch (assisted by Masse), an Abwoch putback, an Abwoch jumper and an Abwoch putback to take their biggest lead, 42-23.
A baseline jumper from Flynn ended the run 8-0 run, but Densmore put home his own miss, Lauture knocked down a 3 and Abwoch capped his 10-point quarter with a layup.
"Labson has now put two good games together," said LeGage. "He's fighting a hand injury. He's starting to feel better. He's a senior. It's now or never. Only a few games left."
Flynn made a layup in the waning seconds, but the damage was done and Deering was fully in command, up, 49-27.
The hosts ended any doubt with a 7-0 run to start the fourth as Masse made two free throws, Lauture hit one, Ahmed sank a pair and Thiwat buried two to push the lead to 56-27. After McGowan hit a 3, Abwoch made two more foul shots, Lauture sank one, Haleform made a layup and Ali and junior Patrick Lobor each made one free throw for a 63-30 advantage.
After Flynn made a layup and senior Tucker Olsen made a leaner for Windham's final points, Haleform made a layup, Lobor hit a jumper and Haleform brought the curtain down on the 69-34 triumph with a layup after a steal.
"We had a good first quarter defensively," said LeGage. "The second quarter was not good basketball. We try to tell these guys we pride ourselves on defense. In the second half, defensively, I thought we did a fantastic job. We fought through screens, we communicated, we boxed out, we did all the things we needed to go to take away their free looks. (Windham) does a good job screening. They have big, strong, athletic kids. We took away their shooters. We came after them defensively.
"We wanted to pick up the tempo. You don't want a team like that to hang around. They have good athletes and basketball players and they're well coached. We set small goals for the second half and they did a great job. (The kids) told us, let's get one more charge. Let's hold them to single digit quarters.
"It's human nature (to look ahead). It was a trap game. (Windham's) record wasn't indicative of how good they were. They'll beat a good team. They have the players to do it."
Abwoch made nine field goals and four free throws for his 22 points. Haleform finished with eight points, Ali and Lauture added seven apiece, Thiwat had six, Densmore and Masse five each, Ahmed four, Lobor three and Richards two.
Deering wound up with a commanding 39-23 rebounding advantage, thanks to eight apiece from Abwoch and Ahmed and six from Lauture. The Rams also forced 14 steals, as Abwoch, Ahmed, Haleform, Lauture and Masse all had two.
Deering only turned the ball over 10 times, while forcing 25, and shot 15-of-28 from the foul stripe.
The Rams got contributions from everyone, as 25 points came from the bench.
"We always talk about getting the bench going," Abwoch said. "Once they get in the game, they're ready."
"Our second unit was terrific," LeGage said. "In the past, several starters could score a bunch of points. This year, everyone knows Labson's a good player. I thought Thiwat was more assertive. He's always good defensively and rebounding. Then, we get nice contributions from different guys. Medhane has picked us up. He's a senior. Ahmed Ali is a good player and shooter and he understands how to play. Liam has been sick. He's not himself, but he helps us stretch the defense. Dominic hit some shots, which is a good sign for us. Masse is the unsung hero. He's a kid that never really played varsity basketball. He's just steady and he doesn't make a lot of mistakes. For a rookie, he's just smart."
For Windham, Flynn was the high scorer with eight points, Dylan Weisser added seven, McGowan six, Francoeur and Hodge four apiece, Kevin Weisser three and Olsen two. The Eagles made 8-of-15 free throw attempts.
While Windham (14th in the Western A Heal Points standings) is back in action Friday at Kennebunk, the Rams (now top ranked in the Heals) have a big showdown upcoming.
Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Portland Expo, Deering will face a once-beaten Portland squad that it lost to twice in 2011-12 (39-35 and 46-22).
The Bulldogs have dropped two straight, at Thornton Academy Friday and a 46-45 home decision to Westbrook Tuesday. Suffice it to say, they'll be fired up to see their crosstown rival.
"We'll have to go hard," Abwoch said. "They'll definitely go hard, especially against us. They're our biggest rival. They've lost two in a row. It will be a good game. Whoever goes hardest will win. We've heard we won without beating them last year. I have friends at Portland and they're on me all the time."
"It's a crosstown rival and both teams have been good for the past decade," LeGage said. "It will be a fun atmosphere. We'll have to come to play. They have great guards, a great big. They were the preseason favorite. Clearly, with all their experience, they're the most veteran team in the league. They always peak late. Portland-Deering is always fun. Hopefully we come to play and play hard."
The Rams also have home games with South Portland and Gorham, a trip to Cheverus and a season-ending home tilt with Portland remaining on the schedule.
"I feel like we're not at our best right now, but we're getting there," said Abwoch. "We have to keep going forward. Winning now doesn't mean anything if we lose in the playoffs. We have to keep going hard in practice."
"We have tough games coming up," LeGage said. "For us, as we head into the playoffs, it's just putting good quarters together and building on good segments."