Deering pulls together, beats Portland 59-50

Sport: Basketball (boys)

Posted: January 20th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Deering pulls together, beats Portland 59-50
By Michael Hoffer
Special to MBR

PORTLAND- The Deering Rams boys' basketball team has demonstrated an impressive knack of overcoming adversity this season, but what the Rams accomplished Saturday night on their home floor was their finest hour to date.

The squad is already without injured junior Regan Flaherty for the season. Saturday, senior Tim Conley was in street clothes and this past week, junior Parker Dodd left the team.

Instead of using the absences as an excuse, Deering put forth a tremendous effort against rival Portland, leading almost the whole way and cruising to a 59-50 victory behind 20 points from junior sharpshooter Ronald Abwoch and 17 apiece from senior standout Tim Donovan and junior star-in-the-making Khadar Abbas.

"It feels good," Abbas said. "We worked hard as a team. We never stopped playing hard. This is the best game we've had. We played hard all game and never let down."

"We're lucky to steal one early, the first time we played them," added Rams' coach Dan LeGage.

Deering entered the season a question mark. Donovan's availability was uncertain and the Rams had a dramatically different roster from a year ago, meaning a lot of players had to get used to new roles.

Donovan got clearance to play and Deering won its first six games before a thrilling one-point, overtime loss at Thornton Academy. After a home win over Noble, the Rams were shocked at Bonny Eagle. Deering bounced back with a win over Kennebunk, giving it an 8-2 mark prior to Saturday's showdown.

Portland, meanwhile, was viewed as the favorite entering the winter, but the Bulldogs have struggled to hit their stride. Senior Justin Powell was in the lineup only sporadically and Saturday it was revealed that he is no longer on the team. Portland opened the season with an overtime loss at Thornton Academy. The Bulldogs also stumbled at Cheverus and Windham, but had won five straight before meeting their match.

Prior to tipoff, with his family on hand, late Deering statistician Ernie Harmon was honored as a chair was dedicated in his memory.

Deering junior Andrea Rogers delivered a rousing version of the National Anthem and it was showtime.

The visitors took a quick 2-0 lead when senior Anthony Passmore scored on a layup off the opening tip. Donovan put his team up 3-2 with an old-fashioned three-point play, but the Bulldogs answered when senior Mike Harmon made a pair of free throws.

Portland would never lead again.

With 6:10 to go in the first, Abbas hit a long jumper ad Deering was up to stay, 5-4. Abwoch followed with two free throws and a layup after a steal, then Donovan converted a reverse layup for an 11-4 advantage.

The Bulldogs got back to 11-8 on a layup from junior Ed Bogdanovich and two free throws from emerging sophomore star Koang Thok, but Donovan answered with a 3-pointer to make it 14-8.

Thok hit a 3-pointer at the other end, but Donovan converted an old-fashioned three-point play for a 17-11 lead. Portland senior Dewayne Albertie got one back with a foul shot, but Abwoch buried a jumper. In the final minute, Bulldogs' sophomore Walter Stover hit a 3-ball, ending a frenetic period which saw Deering lead 19-15.

The second quarter was vastly different.

Forty-five seconds in, Abwoch hit a long jumper for a 21-15 lead. Bogdanovich and Abwoch then traded hoops, giving the Rams a 23-17 edge. Portland then came to life, pulling within two on a 3-ball from Thok and a free throw from Bogdanovich. With 1:48 to play before halftime, Deering got its first points in nearly three minutes as senior Chris Smith made a free throw.

That would be it for first half scoring and the Rams went to the locker room clinging to a 24-21 lead.

While Portland imposed its will in the second period, Deering seized command in the third.

Just 11 seconds into the period, senior Guilluame Ramonas scored on a reverse layup. Stover answered with a 3-ball, but Donovan hit a jumper (his first points since the first quarter), Abbas made a layup and Abwoch did the same for a 32-24 advantage.

Stover momentarily stemmed the tide with another 3-pointer, but Abbas made back-to-back 3's for a 38-27 lead.

"I was confident," Abbas said. "I was keeping my composure. I was wide open. I just had to stay calm."

Sophomore Joe Zukowski hit a jumper in the lane for Portland, but Abbas scored on a rebound putback to restore the Rams' advantage to 11, 40-29. Passmore made one of two free throws for the Bulldogs, but Abwoch made a free throw, then hit a jumper to make it 43-30.

Thok got five points back with a pair of foul shots and a 3-ball, cutting the deficit to eight, 43-35, but with time winding down in the quarter, Abwoch was fouled while attempting a 3 and was awarded three foul shots. He sank them all and Deering led 46-35 heading for the fourth.

"We ran a little play at the end of the quarter and that drew a foul," LeGage said. "Ronald's coming along. He was in a different role tonight. He handled the ball more than we asked him to in the past. He's matured to be able to handle that. The other guys fed off that."

"We had a tremendous second quarter and we tried to build on that, but they came out and played a much better third quarter," Portland coach Joe Russo said. "We thought we could press them, but they hit those 3s. That's it in a nutshell. The dagger was right at the end of the third quarter when we fouled on the 3-pointer."

Harmon opened the fourth with a layup making it 46-37, but the Bulldogs would get no closer. Another Abbas 3-pointer pushed the lead to 12. After Harmon made two free throws, Ramonas scored on a layup. Senior Jake Longstaff made two free throws for Portland, but Abbas scored on a rebound putback and Donovan made a layup for a 55-41 lead.

"We talked about not letting (the Bulldogs) get their engine going," LeGage said. "They're very talented. When they get it cranked up, they're tough to stop. We talked about not letting up consecutive baskets. We played a mix of a zone and man to keep them off balance, but they still made shots and never gave up."

Albertie hit a layup at the other end for the visitors, but Donovan answered with one of his own. After Thok made a layup for Portland, Abwoch made two free throws for Deering's final points. Thok accounted for the 59-50 final score with a floater and 3-pointer in the waning seconds.

"We hit some shots," LeGage said. "The guys played good defense and rebounded. Guys like Ramonas, (sophomore Ed) Tirabassi and Chris Smith played well on the boards. When they missed, we were aggressive on the glass. We controlled it more in the third quarter. We handled their pressure and found some guys who were open. Abbas hit some shots. Ronald hit shots and Kyle did his role. We made them miss and boxed out."

In addition to the 54 combined points from Abbas, Abwoch and Donovan, Deering got four points from Ramonas and one from Smith.

"Ramonas doesn't play a lot, but he was ready," LeGage said. "I have to give him credit. He's been quiet and works hard. He was ready and produced.

"I think we have a good senior group. They're good kids first. They're all top-notch students. They've been brought up the right way. They know what needs to be done. Kyle, Chris and Timmy are the last links to the championship team. They know what they need to say to the underclassmen. They're patient and encouraging."

Portland was led by a breakout 20 points from Thok. Stover finished with nine. Harmon had six. Bogdanovich added five. Albertie and Passmore both had three and Longstaff and Zukowski had two apiece.

"We worked hard, but when you dig from behind all game, you have to get a rhythm going," Russo said. "When you miss shots, it's hard to get a rhythm.

"Deering played well. They shot really well. They had to shoot against our zone and they hit them.

"We didn't shoot well from the foul line and we had too many turnovers. Turnovers don't help. Maybe now, we'll figure out how to buckle down."

The Bulldogs (now 8-4 and eighth in the latest Western Class A Heal Points standings) are back in action Monday when they host dangerous Scarborough (4 p.m. tip time at the Expo). Portland is at Westbrook Friday, then closes the regular season with two games versus South Portland, sandwiched around showdowns at home versus Cheverus and Deering.

"Scarborough's no picnic and Westbrook's no picnic," Russo said. "We get these guys again. It's good that everyone's playing well. We have to decide if we're going to do it or we're not."

The Rams (9-2 and second in Western A) also return to the court Monday when they go to Massabesic. Deering has another huge test upcoming Wednesday, when it goes to Cheverus.

"I hope we can keep it up," Abbas said. "We have some big games coming up. We want a high seed for the playoffs."

It's a work in progress," LeGage added. "This is a good one, but we have to come back Monday and keep taking steps forward. It doesn't get any easier for us. All the teams are so balanced in the league. It's so wide open. South Portland, Cheverus and TA are leading the way. We're in the same boat as Portland. It'll be interesting."

In case you're wondering the Deering-Portland rematch is Feb. 1 at the Expo.

"Hopefully we can beat them again next time," said Abbas.

"We're happy with the win, but we know that Portland will be ready next time," LeGage added.