By Eric Carson
PORTLAND — Things went from pretty bad to much worse for the Deering Rams boys’ basketball team Friday night at the Portland Expo.
And they never got better.
In a highly anticipated rematch of a Jan. 17 thriller – a 60-57 come-from-behind Portland victory – the Rams had little go their way.
Deering’s top player, senior Ronald Abwoch, had two fouls in the first three minutes of the game, and three at the half. The Bulldogs took advantage.
Riding a great defensive effort from senior guard Charlie Ho and junior swingman Koang Thok, the Bulldogs opened up a 19-5 lead at the end of the first quarter and led by as many as 30, improving to 12-4 with 71-47 win. The loss dropped Deering to 11-5.
The Bulldogs turned relentless defensive pressure into scoring opportunities and used a balanced attack to break the game open. Sophomore guard James Ek led three Portland players in double figures, canning four 3-pointers on his way to game-high 18 points. Thok added 14, and Portland senior center Ed Bogdanovich went 6-for-6 from the foul line in the fourth quarter to finish with 14 points.
“I thought that was a great city game,” said Portland coach Joe Russo. “It was a rivalry game and both teams played hard. That’s what we expect from Deering. The scoreboard might say that we won by 20, but they played us tough until the end. We did a better job of taking care of the basketball and we made better decisions. With Abwoch out, they lost a little firepower and we were able to sag off some of the other guys and take advantage. Our defense was very good tonight.”
In contrast, only two Deering players scored in the entire first half. Sophomore Jaime Ross had five points in the first half and finished with eight. Sophomore Ian Nono had seven first half points on his way to a team-high 15.
“Portland is a physical team and they were allowed to play that way tonight,” said Deering coach Dan LeGage. “That changed the game in their favor. To their credit they knocked down some shots, but it was more about the physical nature of the game that our young guys weren’t ready for. It was a good learning experience for our guys. They need to get in the weight room and get stronger so they can handle that type of game.”
Portland jumped out to a 6-0 lead to start the game on two quick hoops from senior Joe Violette (six points) and a bucket by Thok, before Nono scored Deering’s first hoop to make it 6-2.
But Portland ran off five straight points when Thok dropped a nice pass off in the paint to Bogdanovich for two. Thok then drained a high-arcing 3 from out front to make it 11-2.
Ross answered for Deering, retrieving an errant pass from a teammate on a transition break for a bucket, but Portland extended its lead to 15-4 on one foul shot from junior Joe Zukowski (five points) and Ek’s first 3-pointer.
Ross hit one more foul shot for Deering, but Zukowski hit a pair of his own and Thok scored at the buzzer to help the Bulldogs jump out to a 19-5 lead after the first quarter.
The second quarter was better for the Rams, but they still went to half trailing 30-12.
Thok opened the second quarter with a bucket. Ross and Nono each scored baskets for the Rams, but Zukowski hit a jumper and Ek sank another 3-pointer to make it 26-9 Portland with four minutes left in the second.
Nono hit three foul shots in a row for the Rams, but Bogdanovich sunk a pair and Thok added another hoop after an offensive rebound to close out the half at 30-12.
Ek’s big third quarter put the game away for good. The sharp-shooter heated up and pumped in 12 of his 18 points in the quarter. Ek hit a pair of 3-pointers, added a layup and four foul shots to help Portland build an insurmountable 52-26 lead.
“We all worked very well together tonight,” said Ho. “We helped each other on defense and we were much more patient on offense. We took our time and made the extra pass. I tried to be aggressive and keep my man in front of me and not let him penetrate inside for easy baskets. I work hard all of the time and hopefully my teammates feed off of me. That’s really what my job is on this team.”
Deering never quit, winning the fourth quarter 20-19, but it was too little, too late. With limited action due to foul trouble, Abwoch finished with just six points. The Rams, normally quite competent from behind the 3-point stripe, hit only two, both from senior Khadar Abbas (six points).
Portland and Deering each face two more tests. The Bulldogs, fifth in the Western A Heal Points, hoped to be the first team to knock off defending state champion Cheverus when they hosted the Stags Tuesday night (too late for this edition). They close the season by welcoming the South Portland Red Riots to the Expo Friday night.
The Rams, sixth in Western A, host South Portland Wednesday night and travel to Cheverus Friday.