Waynflete’s bench reacts to freshman Askar Houssein after a Houssein 3-pointer during the Flyers’ 57-52 upset of Richmond in Monday’s Class C South quarterfinal. Waynflete advanced to meet Madison in the semifinals Thursday.
Brian Beard photos.
More photos below.
AUGUSTA—Throw the regular season record of the Waynflete boys’ basketball team out the window.
Because when the Flyers get to the Augusta Civic Center, anything is possible.
Monday evening, Waynflete, the defending regional champion, made a return visit to the building that has been so kind to it in recent seasons and even though the Flyers were seeded seventh for their Class C South quarterfinal against No. 2 Richmond, they entered the contest full of confidence.
For good reason.
Not only has Waynflete played well in Augusta over the years, a challenging regular season schedule made it battle tested for the playoffs as well and the Bobcats discovered that when they were staggered in the first half.
The Flyers came out on fire, riding three first quarter 3-pointers to a 19-11 lead.
The second period was even more prolific, as freshman Askar Houssein started with a step-back 3 to cap a 12-0 run and a pair of 3s from senior captain Jack Meahl helped Waynflete go up by 20, 40-20, before the Bobcats scored the final five points of the first half.
Richmond, which lost only one game in the regular season, roared back in the third quarter, forcing seven turnovers and pulling within nine, 50-41, on a jumper from junior Zach Small and the Bobcats got even closer in a fourth period which tried the patience and blood pressure of Waynflete and its fans.
A 3-ball from Houssein with 4:12 to play gave the Flyers a seemingly safe 55-46 advantage, but Small and and junior Matt Rines countered with shots from behind the arc and suddenly, Richmond was only down three.
The Bobcats would have multiple chances to draw even closer or perhaps tie, but they never did so and after senior Yai Deng blocked a shot in a key spot, got the rebound and was fouled, Deng made a free throw to push the lead to four.
Houssein added a foul shot with 5.6 seconds remaining and that allowed Waynflete to hold on for a 57-52 triumph.
Houssein and Meahl had 15 points apiece, Deng added 13 and the Flyers improved to 15-5, ended Richmond’s season at 16-2 and reached the semifinals for the seventh consecutive season, where they will meet No. 3 Madison (16-3) Thursday at 7 p.m. in Augusta.
“I had a feeling we could be in the semifinals,” said Waynflete coach Rich Henry. “I hoped our schedule would battle-harden us. I’d heard a lot about (Richmond) since they had such a great year and we had some common opponents, but you never really know. They’re very skilled. We talk about how our goal is to get here. The guys can see why they work hard going back to the summer and why they lift weights. This is the payoff.”
After getting to the Class C state final a year ago, for the second time in three seasons, and losing to George Stevens Academy, Waynflete graduated a solid senior core and as a result, didn’t win with as much regularity this year.
The Flyers still managed to go 13-5, overcoming a 1-4 stretch with a four-game surge to close the season (see sidebar, below, for links to previous game stories). Waynflete earned the No. 7 seed in the region and held off No. 10 Old Orchard Beach, 51-46, in the preliminary round Thursday.
Richmond lost just once in 17 regular season games (at NYA) and finished second in Class C South.
The teams didn’t play this year and had no playoff history.
Monday, Waynflete reminded everyone why it’s so tough when the calendar flips to February, but the Flyers almost let a huge lead slip away.
A Meahl free throw 33 seconds in was the first point of the contest.
Senior Matt Holt gave the Bobcats a 4-1 lead with two free throws and a leaner, which rattled around and in, but Houssein canned his first 3, from NBA-range, to tie the score and Meahl drove for a layup and the lead.
After Richmond went back on top on a 3 from senior Cody Tribbet, Deng made a nice spin move to elude a defender and finished with a layup for an 8-7 advantage.
The Bobcats got a putback from Small, but Deng again countered with a layup.
With 1:50 to go in the opening quarter, Holt made two free throws for what proved to be Richmond’s final lead.
Thirteen seconds later, Houssein stepped back and sank a 3 for the eighth and final lead change.
“I got open and hitting that first one gave me confidence,” Houssein said. “It was a great way to start the game. I stepped back to get the defender off of me.”
That was followed up by 3s from Meahl and sophomore Alex Saade (at the horn) for a 19-11 lead after one quarter.
In the second period, the Flyers continued their long-range acumen.
Houssein opened the frame with a step-back 3 and after Richmond snapped the 12-0 run with a floater from Small, Houssein drove into the lane for a basket and Meahl canned another 3 to make it 27-13 and force Bobcats coach Phil Houdlette to call timeout.
it helped, as Tribbet knocked down a 3-ball, but Houssein again left the defense in his wake with a spin move and this time fed sophomore Burr Rhoads for a short jumper and a 29-16 lead.
The onslaught continued, as off an inbounds set, Houssein fed Saade for a layup and Meahl added a 3-ball from the corner.
“Seeing (Askar and Jack) make 3s felt good,” Deng said. “They helped us get that lead.”
“We shot the ball well,” Henry said. “You never know here because it’s so wide open. Jack and Askar hit 3s and got us going.”
After Holt countered with a circus shot scoop that somehow found its target, Deng knocked down a jumper and Saade added two free throws for a 20-point lead, 38-18.
After Small made two free throws, Deng countered with a layup, but the Bobcats finished the half strong, getting a 3 from Small and as time expired, a Small floater to cut the deficit to 40-25.
In the first half, Meahl led all scorers with 12 points, Houssein added 11 and Deng had eight. Small led Richmond with 11 points.
In the third period, the Bobcats were able to close the gap, as Waynflete got a little sloppy with the ball.
The second half started with Houssein setting up junior Christian Brooks for a layup. Brooks was fouled on the play and hit the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play.
Richmond then got a layup after a steal from Tribbet and a layup from Holt, but Houssein set up Deng for a layup and after Holt made a fadeaway jumper, Brooks’ jump shot with 4:50 to go in the frame gave the Flyers a 47-31 lead.
Holt made two free throws, but with 3:18 showing, Meahl scored on a runner while being fouled and added the free throw to complete the three-point play.
The rest of the frame belonged to the Bobcats, who got two free throws from Small, a pullup jumper after a steal from Tribbet, a floater from Tribbet and just before the horn, a jumper from Small that rattled in, to cut the deficit to 50-41.
Waynflete committed seven turnovers in third quarter to help Richmond rally.
“Waynflete has really nice kids and you get pressure defense on them and they don’t know how to react,” Henry said. “Now we know what we have to work on.”
In the fourth, the Flyers did just enough to hold on.
Tribbet started the final stanza with a 3, but Meahl set up Deng for a layup.
After Holt went coast to coast for a layup, Small had a look to make it a one-possession game, but his 3 went in and out.
Then, with 4:12 remaining, Houssein stepped back and hit another NBA-range 3 to put Waynflete on top, 55-46.
Small answered right back with a 3 and with 2:58 remaining, junior Matt Rines made it a one-possession game with a 3.
After getting the ball back, Richmond had a chance to tie, but Tribbet’s 3-point bid with 1:46 showing was just off target.
The Bobcats got another chance when Houssein missed a runner and Holt rebounded, but Small was called for charging.
The Flyers tried to extend their lead, but Meahl missed and while Deng got the offensive rebound, he lost his balance and threw the ball away, giving Richmond one final chance to tie.
The Bobcats didn’t go for the tie as Holt went one-on-one with Deng down low and discovered that wasn’t a good idea, as Deng blocked the shot and got the rebound before being fouled.
“He was scoring a lot on me, so I needed to stop him,” Deng said. “It felt good to get the block.”
With 23.5 seconds remaining, Deng made the first of two free throws to make it a two-possession contest.
“We practice free throws every day,” Deng said. “I should be hitting them.”
Deng missed the second attempt, but at the other end, Rines missed a 3 and after Holt kept possession, Small missed as well with Brooks getting the rebound.
Brooks got the ball to Houssein, who was fouled with 5.6 seconds left and Houssein delivered the dagger with one free throw and Waynflete held on for a 57-52 win.
“We work on pressure a lot in practice and that helped us a lot prepare for games like this,” Deng said. “Our schedule helped too. Playing Class A and B schools helped us deal with pressure.”
“We played some tough games over the course of the season and I think that helped us a little bit, but I would have liked to have built that lead and kept it going,” Henry said. “Richmond’s a crafty, very talented team that’s well-coached. You could see them hit 3s and get momentum, but we held on.”
The Flyers were paced by 15 points apiece from Houssein (who also had six assists) and Meahl. Deng finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
“Yai has been such a stalwart for us,” Henry said. “Not just this season, but last year and the year before that. It’s great to see him on this stage do what he’s capable of. He’s a cerebral player, very physically skilled and he made big buckets for us.”
Saade added seven points, Brooks had five (to go with six rebounds) and Rhoads had two.
Waynflete held a 28-26 rebound advantage, overcame 16 turnovers and hit 8 of 11 foul shots.
Richmond was led by Small, who was the game’s high scorer with 18 points. Small also had seven rebounds and two steals. Holt added 16 points and 10 rebounds, Tribbet had 15 points and three steals and Rines finished with three points.
The Bobcats made all 10 of their free throws and only turned the ball over nine times, but still fell just short.
Thursday night, Waynflete will take the Augusta Civic Center floor again when it plays No. 3 Madison.
Waynflete and Madison didn’t play this winter and have never met in the postseason.
The Flyers have an opportunity to continue to surprise the pundits and they promise to be ready.
“Our schedule really helped us,” Houssein said. “Playing teams like Falmouth and Yarmouth helped us get better. We knew we could get here. We’re not done yet.”
“Madison is very good,” Deng said. “It’ll be a good test for us. We’ll be fine if we play our game, take care of the ball and get it down low. We love to play here on the big stage.”
“Madison is a different challenge from Richmond,” Henry added. “They have a very skilled player inside and some crafty kids on the perimeter we’ll have to deal with. I’ll give them the speech that if you fly in a helicopter over Maine, you’ll see a lot of darkened gyms, but ours has the lights on, so they should appreciate it. I give them that speech every year.”
Waynflete senior Yai Deng leans in for two of his 13 points.
Waynflete senior Jack Meahl goes up for a shot in traffic.
Waynflete junior captain Christian Brooks is defended by Richmond junior Zach Small.
Waynflete sophomore Alex Saade lines up a foul shot.
Waynflete freshman Askar Houssein races up the floor. Houssein had 15 points in the victory.