With the game tied 24-24 at halftime, the Deering boys’ basketball team came out swarming on defense and running the court in the second half to pull away from visiting South Portland Red Riots and win, 49-38, Tuesday evening.
Senior guard Jon Amabile led his team to victory with a monster game, pouring in 27 points, 14 off layups.
Most of the points for both squads were scored in the paint or on short to mid-range jump shots. Through three quarters, the game was extremely close, as there were eight lead changes and six ties.
Deering’s Thiwat Thiwat, a 6-4 physical player, found himself in foul trouble very early, which led to an opening down low that allowed South Portland to penetrate and crash the boards easier. Red Riots’ forwards Jack Tolan and Logan Gaddar had excellent games, scoring 12 and eight points respectively while collecting numerous offensive and defensive rebounds.
The clear cut difference in the game, though, was Deering’s ferocious on-the-ball team defense and trapping in the second half which caused countless South Portland turnovers that were instantly converted into fast break points.
“We wanted to take advantage of our speed and athleticism, so we pressured them,” said Deering coach Dan LeGage, who before the game was announced as the Southern Maine Activities Association coach of the year. “Once we picked up the defensive intensity, we started getting in the passing lanes. We were then able to get out and run. We always tell them that defense leads to offense.”
Once the ball was stolen, it took just mere seconds before the Rams were off to the races for easy layups. The crisp, quick and strong passing from several Rams was impressive. A 10-0 run over the last 3:41 in the third quarter and first minute of the fourth was Deering’s style finally coming through.
“I felt like in the second half we played our brand,” said LeGage. “Which is getting up and down the floor. Guys got more confident as the half wore on and we started knocking down shots again.”
Deering’s 6-foot-6 junior Labson Abwoch had 10 points and senior guard Pat Green had eight (six in the third period), but the clear offensive sparkplug was Amabile. He scored at will on fast break layups, mid-range pullup shots, and had three 3-pointers. Midway through the second quarter, the Red Riots built a 21-17 lead, only to see Amabile score seven straight points to swing the lead back to the Rams, 24-22. A Logan Gaddar open bucket inside tied the score at 24 at the end of the first half.
The third quarter was the Green and Amabile Show, as they combined for 11 points in the quarter. Still, the Red Riots, even without star guard Tanner Hyland (out of state), were hanging tough, as it was 30-30 with 3:41 left in the third quarter. However, a 3-pointer from Amabile and two straight layups from Green closed off the quarter at 37-30. Cal London had an excellent pass up the court on one of layups. Green stole a pass and took it to the rim himself on the other. The vicious Deering pressure was too much for the Red Riots, as they had several turnovers and just six points in the third quarter.
“I think they’re putting great pressure on the corners and everything,” said Abwoch of his team’s stellar guards. “Once (opponents) try to swing it to the top of the key, eventually somebody’s going to pick it off, so that’s what we’re trying to do.
“When we get steals and rebounds the guards can outlet and fast break.”
Thiwat was able to play more in the second half and it translated to success for Deering. He averages nine rebounds per game and is known throughout the league as an elite defender.
South Portland cut the deficit to four points at one point in the fourth, though. The Deering bench got a technical foul after a hectic battle over ball possession underneath the hoop. Jordan Muller buried the two free throws and then offensive rebound put backs from Tolan and Ben Burkey made it 40-36 with 5:23 to play. However, Deering then ate some clock passing the ball around the perimeter in an attempt to break down the South Portland zone.
A steal and layup from Amabile and then an identical play from London made it 44-36 with 3:00 left. A wide open Abwoch baseline jumper and an Amabile 3-pointer put the Red Riots down for good. Gaddar scored down low with 49 seconds left for the games last basket. Despite the 11 point differential, South Portland was right in the game for the majority of the night.
“Tonight I can’t fault my kids for how they competed,” said South Portland coach Phil Conley. “They went toe-to-toe with Deering and I thought at the end of the game the difference was Deering made a few key shots and we turned the ball over or missed a few jumpers on the other end.”
The Red Riots (9-6 and seventh in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) have now lost three straight, with three more games remaining in the regular season.
“It’s been a tough stretch for us,” Conley said. “Portland, Cheverus and Deering. No one likes to lose those games but I think it’s made us tougher as a team playing quality teams like that and being right in the game.”
South Portland is home with Noble Friday, visits Portland Tuesday, then closes the regular season at home versus Cheverus Feb. 10.
For Deering, it was a bounce-back win after a loss to Portland last week. The two teams meet again on Feb. 10th for the regular season finale that will be worth valuable Heal Points.
“I can’t wait for that rematch because we’ve got something to prove,” said Abwoch. “That was a homecourt loss. We’ll be ready. If all of our heads are in it, no one can stop us. If we just keep doing what we’re doing we’ll be fine.”
Deering (currently first in the standings) travels to Gorham on Friday and is home with Cheverus Tuesday.
SP- 11 13 6 8- 38
D- 12 12 13 12- 49