PORTLAND – Labson Abwoch scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half to lift Deering to a 37-30 victory over Portland in an SMAA boys’ basketball regular-season finale Thursday night at Deering High.
The game was moved up a night because of the impending snowstorm.
Deering (15-3) is expected to pass the Bulldogs and grab second place in the final Western Class A Heal point standings.
Portland (14-4) is expected to finish third, but might have finished first with a victory because of Cheverus’ upset of top-ranked South Portland.
The first meeting between these two rivals last month was also low-scoring with Portland winning.
Tight defense and low-scoring games appear to be a trend when the city schools get together.
“It was a sloppy game with two teams going hard at each other,” said Abwoch. “It’s a rivalry.”
Portland Coach Joe Russo called it a good old-fashioned slugfest.
“Just like the old days. We had our chances.” said Russo.
With both teams in each other’s face as soon as the ball was brought over halfcourt, trying to get into the offense was difficult.
“Portland is a real physical team,” said Deering Coach Dan LeGage. “You’re going to turn the ball over against them. We pride ourselves on defense. Our No. 1 priority is to play tough defense, box out and make our free throws. The offense will come. I’m happy that we stayed focused and played together against a good team. We had situations where we could have caved in.”
The Rams know when they need a basket, Abwoch, a 6-foot-7 senior, is a reliable choice. It’s been that way this season.
“Labson had a fantastic second half,” said LeGage. “I feel he’s one of the best big men around.”
Deering led 34-30 when Abwoch rebounded his miss and scored with 1:27 remaining. The basket put Deering over the hump because the Bulldogs’ offensive struggles continued to the end.
The Rams called a timeout twice in the final minute to settle things down.
Abwoch was 4 of 4 from the line in the second half. His four baskets in the second half were timely.
“I had a slow start,” said Abwoch. “I had to let the game come to me. My teammates were looking for me in the second half. I was just trying to get open. This gives us a lot of momentum for the tournament.”
Deering won the game at the line. The Rams were 13 of 23; Portland was 6 of 18.
“You could look at a number of things but it came down to the fact that we couldn’t make a free throw,” said Russo. “We shoot free throws all the time. It’s all a state of mind.
“This is probably a good omen for us. We finished 14-4, the same as last year. It’s a wide- open tournament. I’ve been doing this a long time and it doesn’t matter if you come in ranked second, third or fourth. We’re going to have a tough quarterfinal matchup no matter where we finish.”
With both teams slugging it out on defense, it was left for Medhane Haleform of Deering to provide the lone highlight.
His shot from just inside halfcourt banked in just before the buzzer, giving Deering a 17-16 halftime lead.
While the game stayed close the rest of the way, the Rams never trailed again.
Center Matt Talbot of Portland crumbled to the floor after a rebound midway through the third quarter. Talbot returned after what Russo called a calf contusion.
Dominic Lauture added 10 points for Deering.
Justin Zukowski was the Bulldogs’ leading scorer with seven points, all coming in the fourth quarter.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: