SACO — Scoring wasn’t easy for either team, so when the lead started shifting in the final minutes of Tuesday’s Class AA boys’ basketball game, it seemed inevitable foul shooting would play a role.

Going to the line proved Thornton Academy’s winning formula. With freshman starter Payton Jones making all four of his attempts, including the winner with 11 seconds left, Thornton made 7 of 8 free throws in the final 70 seconds of its 45-44 win against Cheverus.

“Payton is a strong-headed person. Most of our kids are pretty mentally tough. They’re not going to let that stuff get to them,” said Thornton Coach Bob Davies.

Thornton, which plays in the South, is 4-0 despite playing almost the entire season without injured all-state forward David Keohan. Cheverus, which had won three straight, dipped to 3-4.

After Jones’ final free throws, Cheverus called a timeout with 6.5 seconds left and the ball in the front court. The Stags called for an out-of-bounds lob to Will Shibles. The play had worked perfectly to start the second half for an easy bucket. This time Shibles was double-teamed and his fallaway was well short. Thornton’s C.J. Labreck grabbed the errant shot and held the ball. He was called for traveling as it appeared he was pushed out of bounds.

The clock, which had expired, was appropriately reset to 1.6 seconds. Cheverus’ Owen Burke got off a bank shot at the buzzer that bounced out.

Jones and Anthony Bracamonte each scored 12 points for Thornton.

Matt Duchaine and Tobias Ephron had 10 each for Cheverus, with Burke adding nine and Shibles eight.

Duchaine, guarded by Labreck, had been held to two points for the first 28-plus minutes. With Labreck getting a breather, Duchaine worked a hesitation drive into a 3-point play and a 37-34 lead for Cheverus with 3:19 to play.

Labreck re-entered the game and rolled in a free-throw line jumper to cut the lead to one. Bracamonte followed with a key steal near half court. Bracamonte missed his breakaway layup but Andre Hart cleaned up the rebound for a 38-37 lead.

“I am proud that we battled back and made some plays and took the lead but we have to finish that game,” said Cheverus Coach Ryan Soucie.

Thornton twice pushed the lead to three points but Duchaine answered with an offensive rebound and then a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left for a 44-43 lead.

On the next possession, Jones dribbled into traffic along the baseline. His shot attempt came up well short but Duchaine, who had four blocks, was called for a foul.

Neither team was able to get consistent scoring inside. For Thornton that used to come from Keohan, who hurt his knee in the first quarter of the opener.

“What he gave you last year he was going to give you this year, if not more, so you’re counting on 17 points a night, 10 rebounds a night, a guy who’s going to protect the paint and understand what we’re doing (on defense). So it’s an adjustment,” Davies said. “Basically you’ve got to replace what you’re missing and we’ll figure out the pieces that are going to do it.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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