Deering junior James Sinclair and Cheverus sophomore Jesse Matthews meet in the air during the Rams’ 69-45 win Saturday night.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.


Deering 69 Cheverus 45

C- 8 8 16 13- 45
D- 14 16 16 23- 69

C- Matthews 8-1-18, Fletcher 4-0-8, J. Casale 3-0-7, Thete 1-2-4, Drelich 0-2-2, Napolitano 1-0-2, Roberts 1-0-2, Shibles 0-1-1, Tomkinson 0-1-1

D- Williams 3-6-12, White 4-0-11, Chabot 3-0-8, Lobor 3-2-8, Salamone 4-0-8, Sinclair 2-1-5, Buckley 0-4-4, Chikuta 2-0-4, Butera 1-0-3, Deng 0-3-3, Onek 1-0-3

C (2) J. Casale, Matthews 1
D (7) White 3, Chabot 2, Butera, Onek 1

PORTLAND—Portland’s two-time defending regional champion boys’ basketball team is getting most of the attention so far this winter, but the Bulldogs’ biggest rival just might be the team to beat in the newly formed Class AA North when all is said and done.

The Rams continued their fast start Saturday night, beating crosstown rival Cheverus by a decisive margin to remain undefeated.

Deering led, 14-8, after one quarter and 30-16 at halftime, then behind the 3-point shooting acumen of senior Max Chabot and junior Malik White, shot to a 41-20 lead early in the third period. The Stags rallied and got as close as 12 points, but the Rams put the game away with a 14-1 surge and went on to a 69-45 victory.

Senior Ben Williams had 12 points and Deering had 11 different players score as it improved to 8-0, its best start since the 2012 championship teams, and dropped Cheverus to 6-3 in the process.

“So far, so good,” said Rams coach Todd Wing. “I like the sound of 8-0. I like this team. I like our chemistry and our upside. This is a group of guys that will get better.”

Early test

Both teams have won their share of games in the early going.

Cheverus welcomed new coach Ryan Soucie by winning its first five outings: 39-24 over visiting Sanford, 59-39 at Windham, 53-39 over visiting Bangor, 62-58 at Scarborough and 52-40 over visiting Edward Little. The fun ended with a 77-62 loss at Oxford Hills. After beating visiting Noble, 74-33, the Stags fell at home to Massabesic Wednesday, 61-54.

Deering opened by downing visiting Windham, 82-60. After an emphatic 105-33 win at Noble, the Rams won at Edward Little (76-62), at home over Sanford (67-38), at Bangor (66-60), at home over Lewiston (69-36) and Wednesday at Gorham, 56-51.

“I was very proud of how we executed in the last minute and a half at Gorham,” Wing said. “We practice a two-minute drill every day in practice.”

Entering Saturday’s contest, Deering had beaten Cheverus in six of the past eight meetings (see sidebar, below), after the Stags had won 11 in a row before that. Last winter, each squad won on the road (Cheverus, 45-34, Deering, 69-64).

This time around, the Rams took care of business at home, ringing in the new year with an decisive victory.

The first quarter was played more at the Stags’ pace, but Deering managed to lead, 14-8.

The Rams methodically opened it up in the second half and by the break, were in control, 30-16.

Deering started the second half hot for even more breathing room.

Two Williams free throws were countered by a putback from Cheverus sophomore Jesse Matthews, but Chabot knocked down a 3. After a Matthews tip-in, White made a 3 and junior James Sinclair scored on a putback for a 41-20 advantage.

Matthews countered with a 3, but Chabot banked home a shot with his off-hand.

The Stags finished the third quarter strong to remain within hailing distance.

First, junior Jack Casale knocked down a 3-pointer. Freshman Tre Fletcher hit a leaner, then Casale made a layup after a steal to cut the deficit to 13. After a free throw from Williams, two foul shots from Cheverus senior Kenny Drelich made it a 12- point game, but with 18 seconds left in the frame, a leaner from junior Raffaele Salamone made it 46-32 Deering heading for the final quarter.

A putback from senior Andrew Roberts started the fourth for the Stags and again cut the deficit to 12, but the Rams ended all doubt as senior Anthony Lobor scored on a leaner, then put home a miss and Chabot sank a 3 for a 53-34 lead.

Matthews made a free throw to end the surge, but White countered with a 3, senior Tiem Deng made a free throw and with 4:25 remaining, junior Jean Claude Butera brought the house down, as his attempted alley-oop to Deng instead found the net for an unlikely 3-pointer and a 60-35 advantage.

After Matthews made a layup, Fletcher converted a layup, but Deering freshman Ben Onek countered with a 3 to make it 63-39.

After Cheverus senior David Thete and Rams sophomore Connor Buckley traded a pair of free throws, senior Jake Tomkinson made one for the visitors. Buckley sank two more for Deering before freshman Will Shibles hit one for the Stags.

In the final minute, Deng sank two free throws for the Rams’ final points and Thete made a jumper to account for the 69-45 final score.

“We want to make conditioning a factor and we did that,” Wing said. “We want to play fast on offense and defense. Our third quarter was a little slow. In the huddle coming out for the fourth, I said we have to play faster. When we played faster, it was over. We’re a team of tempo, a team of runs.”

Deering displayed remarkable scoring balance.

Only two players wound up in double figures, Williams with 12 and White with 11, but nine others got in the scoring column. Chabot, Lobor and Salamone all had eight points, Sinclair added five, Buckley and junior Manny Chikuta had four apiece and Butera, Deng and Onek three each.

“Not one player on this team couldn’t play for any other team in the state,” Williams said. “We’re unselfish.”

“I can’t believe how balanced our scoring was,” Wing said. “That’s how we are. We have guys who are a threat to put up 20. Teams can’t key on one single guy. Raffaele got points in the paint off rebounds. James Sinclair, Mr. Baseball, gave us points with putbacks. Ben was Ben. He caused havoc. Max is playing well.”

As impressive as Deering was on offense, its defensive effort was just as special. The Rams held Cheverus junior Austin Boudreau, who’s had huge games against them in the past, to zero points.

“Cheverus is a good shooting team, so we wanted to limit them,” Williams said.

“Last year, I think Austin lit us up for 30,” Wing said. “Tonight we held him to zero, that’s unbelievable.” 

Matthews led Cheverus and all scorers with 18 points. Fletcher added eight, Casale had seven, Thete four, Drelich, senior Luca Napolitano and Roberts two apiece and Shibles and Tomkinson one each.

“(Deering’s) better than us right now,” said Soucie. “That’s plain and simple. They’re bigger, quicker and stronger. Their pressure can wear you down. We had things we wanted to execute. We knew they’d pressure us. We talked about being strong with the basketball, ball faking, but we didn’t execute very well and they made their shots. They got to the foul line and we didn’t. We wanted to slow the game down and we didn’t.

“We respect every opponent we play. We got some good tests. Our schedule is ramping up and is getting tougher on paper. We knew this part of the season was coming. We’ve tried to prepare for it. I haven’t done a good job, I guess, because we’re not prepared.”

Getting serious

The schedule will only get tougher for each team.

Cheverus hopes to bounce back Tuesday when dangerous South Portland pays a visit. The Stags go to Bonny Eagle Friday, then visit Portland.

“We’ve lost three out of four to quality opponents,” Soucie said. “It will be like this from here on out. It will be a challenge. We have to look in the mirror as players and coaches. We’re playing for February. That’s been our goal since day one and it’s still a goal.”

Deering (which last started 9-0 in 2000-01, when it won its first 21 games before losing to Bangor in the Class A state final on a buzzer beater) is idle until Friday, when it goes to South Portland. After traveling to Thornton Academy, the Rams host Portland in the game of the year, part one.

“It feels good to win games, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Williams said. “We’re just trying to get better every day. We have high expectations. We want to win the championship. We’re here for each other. We know the sky’s the limit for us. We have to keep executing, playing team defense, pushing the ball and we’ll be fine. We love each other. Everyone is on the same page, giving it their best shot.”

“The meat of our schedule is coming up and it’s time to perform,” Wing said. “We’ll find out what we’re made of.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Deering junior Manny Chikuta goes up for a layup.

Deering junior Raffaele Salamone is defended in the low post by Cheverus senior Andrew Roberts.

Deering junior Jean Claude Butera fires from long range.

Deering senior Ben Williams goes up for two of his team-high 12 points.

Recent Cheverus-Deering meetings

Cheverus 45 @ Deering 34
Deering 69 @ Cheverus 64 

@ Cheverus 47 Deering 46
@ Deering 66 Cheverus 56

@ Deering 71 Cheverus 63
Deering 64 @ Cheverus 52

@ Cheverus 49 Deering 40
@ Deering 50 Cheverus 46
Western A semifinals
Deering 52 Cheverus 49

@ Cheverus 61 Deering 51
Cheverus 43 Deering 36

Cheverus 72 @ Deering 42
@ Cheverus 63 Deering 53

Cheverus 63 @ Deering 35
@ Cheverus 60 Deering 38

@ Cheverus 67 Deering 49
Cheverus 66 @ Deering 48

Cheverus 68 @ Deering 58 (OT)
@ Cheverus 55 Deering 34

Deering 50 @ Cheverus 49
@ Deering 51 Cheverus 47

@ Cheverus 57 Deering 51
Cheverus 60 @ Deering 51
Western A Final
Deering 45 Cheverus 42

@ Cheverus 65 Deering 54
Cheverus 66 @ Deering 52

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