SOUTH PORTLAND—The visitors stayed unblemished, but the hosts put on quite a valiant show in Act I of the SMCC-CMCC basketball passion play Wednesday evening at the Hub Gymnasium.
In a doubleheader which featured all four teams sporting undefeated conference records, the Central Maine Community College women led their game almost the whole way, but Southern Maine Community College cut a 19-point deficit to nine with eight minutes to play. The Seawolves would get no closer, however, and went down to an 80-64 defeat, turning the ball over 28 times and seeing the Mustangs score numerous second chance points. CMCC stayed unbeaten in Yankee Small College Conference play (8-0, 12-1 overall) and dropped SMCC to 8-3 overall and 6-1 in conference.
The nightcap proved to be a scintillating display of up-and-down basketball. After CMCC took an early 11-point lead, SMCC roared back and the teams traded the lead six times before the halftime break, which saw the Seawolves on top, 50-45. The Mustangs roared out of the gate in the second half, however, going on a 10-2 run and after taking the lead for good, 58-57, they fended off continual SMCC rallies before gradually pulling away to triumph, 95-85, staying perfect on the season (13-0, 8-0 in conference), while dropping the Seawolves to 11-2 (6-1 in YSCC play).
When the women’s teams took the floor to begin the evening, the Seawolves knew they’d have to be able to handle the Mustangs’ pressure, but in the end, that proved to be the hosts’ downfall.
CMCC broke the ice when Gabby Foy knocked down a 3 from the corner. SMCC then got a driving layup from Danielle McCusker, a former South Portland standout, who spent time with the Mustangs prior to coming home this season.
SMCC then got a layup fom Maria Veino to go on top, 4-3, but the lead was short lived as Susie French buried a 3 and Foy hit a long shot from the wing for an 8-4 lead. Four-year point guard Esther Palmieri (another South Portland product) pulled the Seawolves within one with a 3-ball, but a spinning layup from Laura Soohey put the Mustangs back on top by three, 10-7.
Back battled SMCC as Stefanie Saavedra banked home a short shot and after Maggie McConkey made a layup for CMCC, McCusker took a pass from Palmieri and sank a 3 to tie the game, 12-12.
“Danielle responded much better than I thought,” said Seawolves first-year coach Julia Howe. “I knew she was nervous. She handled herself with maturity. After the first couple minutes, she got in the flow of the game.”
The Mustangs retook the lead on a layup from McConkey, but off an inbounds play, the Seawolves tied the game again as Chandler Waterman passed to Veino for an easy layup. Foy made a layup at the other end, but Waterman banked home a 3 to put the Seawolves ahead, 17-16, with 12:02 to play in the first half.
That would prove to be SMCC’s final lead of the game, as CMCC began to assert control.
First, French converted an old-fashioned three-point play with a layup, a foul and a free throw. After Palmieri set up Nyalieb Deng for a fastbreak layup, French continued to dominate, scoring on a driving layup to give her team the lead for good, then making a reverse layup. After the hosts pulled within one on a three-point play from McCusker, Laura Soohey made a layup for the Mustangs and Lexi Larson knocked down a long 3 for a 28-22 advantage, CMCC’s biggest to that point.
A long jumper from Roberta Trafton momentarily stemmed the tide, but Larson made a pullup 3-pointer. After Zyrah Giustra made a jumper for SMCC, a layup after a steal from Soohey pushed the lead to seven, 33-26. With just under a minute to go, Jamie Swart scored on a putback while being fouled and made the free throw to put a punctuation mark on a 13-4 run to end the half as CMCC took a 36-26 lead to the break.
In the first 20 minutes, SMCC got eight points from McCusker, but committed 16 turnovers and was outrebounded, 23-16, as CMCC was paced by 10 points from French and eight from Larson.
French and the Mustangs poured it on in the second half.
After SMCC opened the scoring with a driving layup by Veino, French scored on a driving layup and was fouled after a steal and hit both free throws. Foy then knocked down a 3 and just like that, CMCC had a 15-point lead, 43-28, forcing Howe to call timeout.
After Veino made a free throw and Waterman made a layup after a steal, French scored on a left-handed layup. Trafton scored on a putback for the Seawvoles, but Soohey did the same for the visitors. Danielle Day countered with a 3 for SMCC, but two French free throws, a bank shot from McConkey and a layup after a steal by Jasmine Ramos made it 53-36 Mustangs with 15:21 remaining.
Afer Veino made a free throw, McConkey converted an old-fashioned three-point play to give the visitors their biggest lead, 56-37, with 14:10 left, but Veino then took over, scoring on a leaner, a layup and making a free throw to pull SMCC within 14, 56-42.
“Maria was aggressive,” said Howe. “That’s something we’ve been lacking in the post. She took that role on. She was aggressive attacking the rim and did good things for us.”
Another Foy 3-ball made it 59-42 and seemingly put the Seawolves on the brink of defeat, but the hosts got a layup from Veino (assisted by Palmieri) and Palmieri knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to 12. After Samantha Bruce made a free throw for CMCC, McCusker scored her first points of the half, on a backdoor layup, and a baseline jumper from Trafton momentarily cut the deficit to under 10, 60-51, but after McConkey made a layup after a touchdown pass off the inbounds, Bruce hit a clutch 3 and just like that, the Mustangs’ lead was up to 14, 65-51, with 7:24 to play.
SMCC crawled back within 10 on a layup from Yaritza Tejada and a fastbreak layup from Deng, but Foy buried another clutch 3 from the corner and Soohey made a layup.
The hosts got a point back when McCusker made a technical free throw and Deng added two foul shots to make it 70-58 with 4:25 to play, but Soohey answered with a bank shot. McCusker made a baseline jumper, but Ramos was fouled after a steal and hit one attempt. Soohey added added a free throw and McConkey hit two. After McCusker made a layup, Soohey countered with one of her own. A bank shot from Deng accounted for the Seawolves’ final points and a layup from Soohey with 25 seconds to go brought the curtain down on the Mustangs’ 80-64 win.
“It feels really good,” said French, who led all scorers with 18 points. “We take everyone seriously, but this is one game we really want. It’s such a good, friendly rivalry. They’re the best team we’ve faced. We learned we can grind it out. It’s the first time we’ve had to grind out two halves in a hostile environment. We stayed composed, especially with a lot of freshmen. We didn’t get rattled.”
“This is the first time in awhile we’ve faced adversity,” said Mustangs coach Andrew Morong. “Credit to SMCC. They came at us. I loved how the girls responded.”
In addition to French’s 18 points, Foy had 16 points (12 of which came on 3s), Soohey 15 (to go with 10 rebounds) and McConkey 13 (along with 10 rebounds and five steals). Larson had eight points off the bench. Reserves Bruce (four points), Ramos (three) and Swart (three) combined to score the other 10.
“It didn’t matter who was in the game, they made a positive impact,” Morong said.
CMCC wraps up its first semester at Eastern Maine CC Friday and knows that it can still improve.
“We have to focus on the little things,” said French. “Our goal is to go all the way, but we still have a long way to go.”
“I’m very pleased, but not satisfied,” Morong said. “This gives us momentum going into the second semester. We have nine freshmen and we need our freshmen not to be freshmen anymore in the second semester. I can only imagine where we’ll be in 10, 12 weeks.”
The Seawolves got 15 points apiece from McCusker and Veino (who had a team-high seven rebounds and also produced four steals). Deng had eight points (to go with six boards, four steals and three blocked shots), Trafton and Palmieri (who had a game-high 11 assists) both had six points, Waterman added five (to go with four steals), Day three and Giustra, Saavedra and Tejada two apiece.
Ultimately, however, SMCC’s 28 turnovers and being outrebounded, 47-40 (including allowing 16 CMCC offensive rebounds) proved too much to overcome.
“When you have 28 turnovers, it will be tough to beat any team, especially a talented team like CM,” Howe said. “We talked about in practice, but sometimes it’s hard to transfer that to a game. We just gave them too many second chance opportunities. They’re way too good to miss more than once or twice. We were competitive, but their press got us more flustered than it should. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities to handle it next time.”
The Seawolves wrap up the first semester a week from Saturday at Vaughn and believe that bigger and better things lie ahead.
“We have three losses and we know we have things to work on, but we have a great base and if we jell at the right time, there’s tons of potential for this team,” Howe said. “I have no complaints about the first semester. We still have plenty to work on and get better at, but as long as we’re ready for playoffs, that’s all that really matters.”
For years, the SMCC and CMCC men have saved their best for each other and the school’s respective student sections have done the same. That was evident again Wednesday, as a fan bus from Auburn brought a large contingent to cheer on the Mustangs, while the Seawolves had their share of vocal fans as well.
SMCC men’s coach Matt Richards and CMCC men’s coach Dave Gonyea made a point of turning these annual contests into more than mere games and it showed.
“Dave and I decided long ago that we wanted this to be special because of our friendship and what we want to establish in terms of an event,” Richards said. “I think it’s what college basketball should be. If you ask the players, I’d bet they’d say it the most fun game they’ve played in and if you ask the kids in the stands they’d say it’s something they want to take part in.”
“Matt works really hard to do this right,” Gonyea said. “We do the same at our place to make it a good show. That crowd, you couldn’t hear anybody.”
Rest assured, those on hand had plenty to cheer about.
The first half was breathtaking.
SMCC took a quick 2-0 lead on a baseline jumper from Davis Nicholson, but the visitors went ahead on a jumper and free throw from Jalen Lincoln, then made it 5-2 on a monster jam from Kazre Cummings. Alexander Hartford got a point back for the Seawolves with a free throw, but Lincoln hit a jump shot, Luis Medina made a layup and after a driving layup from SMCC point guard Jose Nouchanthavong, CMCC reserve Carrington Miller came in and made a 3 and Jimmy Pina also came off the bench for a layup and a 14-5 advantage.
SMCC got a free throw from Tong Akot but Chris Semedo knocked down a 3 and CMCC had its biggest lead, 17-6. After two free throws from D.J. Johnson, Miller hit a floater to make it 19-8, but that would be the Mustangs’ highwater mark.
Two Akot foul shots started the rally. Scott Proudman then came off the bench and made a reverse layup and Nouchanthavong added a free throw to make it 19-13.
After Xavier Colbert stemmed the tide with a 3-ball and Colbert added a free throw, Former Deering High standout Jon Amabile sank a 3, Jacob Loveridge scored on a putback, Nicholson hit a long jumper and a Nouchanthavong made a bank shot while being fouled and added the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play and a 25-23 lead. Hartford added a free throw to cap an 18-4 run and give the Seawolves a three-point advantage.
The Mustangs tied the score on a 3 from Medina, but Amabile put the hosts back on top with a 3 of his own. After Tim Flanagan made a layup for CMCC, a driving layup from Shaun Hill gave the Mustangs the lead, but another Amabile 3 and a baseline jumper from Proudman put SMCC on top, 34-30.
Back and forth we went as Miller converted a three-point play, Hill hit a long jumper, Jimmy Pina put home his own miss and Hill capped a 9-0 spurt with a layup to make it 39-34, but Amabile hit two foul shots and Proudman knocked down a 3-ball to tie the score, 39-39. A pair of Nouchanthavong free throws and a floater from Nicholson capped a 9-0 Seawolves’ run, but a leaner from Miller and a layup by Miller after an alley-oop pass made it 43-43.
With just over two minutes to play before halftime, a Proudman 3 put the Seawolves back on top. After a rattling dunk from Cummings after a steal, Akot made a layup, then made a putback in the waning seconds to give SMCC a 50-45 halftime advantage.
In the first 20 minutes, Proudman had 12 points, while Amabile added 11. Miller led the Mustangs with 12 points.
As expected, the pace wasn’t quite as frenetic in the second half, but the teams continued to put on a show.
The Mustangs responded to whatever Gonyea said in the locker room, scoring 10 of the first 12 points of the second half to retake the lead.
Just 28 seconds into the second half, Cummings hit a jumper. Flangan added a layup and after Nicholson scored on a driving layup to momentarily stem the tide, Jalen Lincoln hit a baseline jumper for CMCC. A layup by Cummings then gave the Mustangs the lead and a baseline jumper from Colton Bivighouse (his first points) made it 55-52.
After Akot made two free throws, Miller answered with a floater. SMCC managed to draw even at 57-57, on a 3 from Atencio Martin, but a free throw from Hill put CMCC back on top to stay. Miller added a putback to make it 60-57 with 13:44 to go.
After Akot’s layup pulled the Seawolves within a point, Hill countered with a driving layup. Martin made it a one-point game with a layup, but a leaner in the lane from Hill pushed the lead back to three, 64-61.
With 12:20 remaining, an Akot layup pulled the hosts within one for the final time, but a three-point play from Cummings and a layup from Pina made it 69-63 with 10:33 left.
After Jordan DeRosby scored on a bank shot, Flanagan hit a free throw. Two foul shots from Proudman pulled SMCC within three, 70-67, but Hill made a layup, then hit a leaner while being fouled and added the free throw for a 75-67 advantage with 8:10 to go.
After a Martin free throw, the Mustangs opened their lead to nine, 77-68, on a Hill jumper. After the Seawolves drew within four, 77-73, on a putback from Akot and a 3-ball from DeRosby, Colbert drove for a layup, then took a pass from Flanagan and made a layup to push the lead back to eight points, 81-73.
After a Hartford layup was countered by a putback from Miller, Hartford scored on a putback for SMCC. Miller made one foul shot, but Hartford countered with two and the Seawolves were within five, 84-79, with 3:02 remaining.
CMCC didn’t wilt, however, as Cummings made a difficult angle spinner and after an Amabile free throw, Cummings took a pass from Flanagan and made a layup with 1:05 left to produce some breathing room. Medina added two free throws and Colbert hit one to make it 91-80. After Proudman made a layup, Cummings answered with two foul shots. Amabile’s final 3 of the night, with 16.8 seconds left gave SMCC its final points, and with 15 seconds to go, Medina put the finishing touches on the 95-85 victory with two free throws.
“It was a great game, great atmosphere,” said Richards. “We knew they’d beat us if they got transition baskets because we turned the ball over against their pressure because we left our point guard stranded. That’s exactly what happened in the second half. First half, we handled it fine and were up five, but they turned it around and beat us. We had a little fatigue set in, I think. Kudos to their pressure. They created that tempo, which is a direct cause to us missing second chance shots or bobbling the ball on offensive rebounds. They played their game better than we played ours. Kudos to them.”
Miller led all scorers with 19 points. Hill added 18 and Cummings finished with 17. Colbert and Medina both had nine. Lincoln added seven, Pina six, Flanagan five, Semedo three and Bivighouse two.
“It was a typical SMCC-CM game,” Gonyea said. “I told the kids we had to play for 40 minutes. We use 13 guys every game. Run them in, run them out and try to press fullcourt the entire game. At halftime, I said, ‘Welcome to adversity.’ It’s the first time we’d been down at the half. I said, ‘Guys, we’re a good basketball team. They outworked us the first half. We have to outwork them the second half.’ Forty minutes of pressure is hard to withstand and that’s what we try to do. We wanted to get the ball out of Jose’s hands if we could.”
CMCC is at Eastern Maine CC Friday and closes the 2013 portion of its schedule Sunday at home versus Northern Maine CC.
As scary as it is to imagine, the Mustangs can still get a lot better.
“We still need to work on our rotation defense, but I’m really happy at 13-0,” Gonyea said. “I’m really happy with the effort. The kids work really hard. At the end of the day, it’s all about chemistry.”
SMCC was paced by 16 points from Proudman. Akot had 15 and Amabile 14. Hartford, Nicholson and Nouchanthavong all added eight. Martin had six points, DeRosby five, Loveridge three and Johnson two.
“Tong played well, Scotty played well, I thought Atencio played well,” Richards said. “We got good contributions. You always want to compete, which I think we did. I’m disappointed in the loss, however, I think there are some great learning tools that came from it that will make us better.”
The Seawolves have one final game remaining before the holiday break, Saturday, when they host NMCC. This squad is is prime position to make noise in 2014.
“Kudos to the kids for being 11-2,” Richards said. “It’s all about effort. They’re extremely coachable. They work so hard. They’re the most cohesive unit I’ve ever had on and off the court. Being 11-2 should be something they take a lot of pride in. I think we’ve got to learn that teams will pressure us like that and we need to convert and make them pay. I think we’ll end the semester on a good note and get to 12-2. A lot of teams would like to be in our shoes.”
SMCC’s Esther Palmieri switches to the left hand as she drives to the basket.
SMCC’s Maria Veino, who had a terrific game, leans in for a shot.
SMCC’s Roberta Trafton dribbles past a CMCC defender.
SMCC’s Nyalieb Deng goes to the hoop. Deng had a strong game in several different statistical categories.
SMCC’s Jaimi Poland and CMCC’s Lexi Larson fight for rebounding position.
SMCC’s Jon Amabile, a former Deering High standout, drives to the basket. Amabile did most of his damage from the perimeter Wednesday, draining four 3-pointers.
SMCC’s Alexander Hartford goes up for a shot.
SMCC’s Scott Proudman, who had a strong game off the bench, looks to drive on CMCC’s Luis Medina.
SMCC’s Atencio Martin soars to the hoop.
SMCC’s Tong Akot, who had a stellar game off the bench, leans in for a shot.
SMCC’s Jordan DeRosby, who had a strong second half, goes up for a shot.
SMCC’s Danielle McCusker goes up for two points as CMCC’s Gabby Foy defends during the Mustangs’ 80-64 victory Wednesday night. McCusker, a former Mustang, scored 15 points in her first game against her old team.
Mike Strout photos
SMCC’s Jose Nouchanthavong splits the CMCC defense and soars to the basket during the Seawolves’ showdown with the rival Mustangs Wednesday. CMCC earned bragging rights and stayed undefeated with a 95-85 victory.
More photos below.