Cheverus senior Akera Oryem soars to the basket for two of his 11 points in the Stags’ 68-64 home win over Gorham Tuesday.

Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Cheverus 68 Gorham 64

G- 14 14 16 20- 64
C- 11 21 17 19- 68

G- Nadeau 8-5-21, Haines 4-2-12, Strout 3-3-9, Bretton 3-1-8, O’Neill 4-0-8, B. Meader 2-0-4, Reno 1-0-2

C- Galli 7-7-21, Duchaine 4-2-14, Burke 3-4-11, Oryem 3-4-11, Morrison 2-0-5, Foster 1-0-3, Sanborn 0-2-2, Joyce 0-1-1

3-pointers:
G (3) Haines 2, Bretton 1
C (8) Duchaine 4, Burke, Foster, Morrison, Oryem 1

Turnovers:
G- 18
C- 13

Free throws
G: 11-16
C: 20-25

PORTLAND—Cheverus’ boys’ basketball team is known for its outside shooting acumen, so when the Stags are attacking the rim as well, they’re pretty tough to beat.

The Gorham Rams learned that first-hand Tuesday evening at Keegan Gymnasium in a pivotal midseason Class AA showdown.

Coming off a big victory over defending regional champion Scarborough, Cheverus made its presence felt inside the paint during the first period, but couldn’t put the ball in the basket and trailed, 14-11, after eight minutes.

Shots started to drop in the second quarter and three 3-pointers from senior Matt Duchaine helped the Stags open up a 32-28 halftime advantage.

In the third period, senior sub extraordinaire Akera Oryem helped Cheverus go up by double-digits with a highlight-reel hoop, but the Rams crept back within 49-44 on a late 3-pointer from senior Tyler Haines heading for the fourth quarter.

There, Gorham drew within one possession on three separate occasions, but each time, the Stags countered and late free throws from Duchaine and junior Nick Galli helped Cheverus hold on to win, 68-64.

Galli finished with 21 points, Duchaine had 14 and Oryem and senior Owen Burke each added 11 as the Stags improved to 6-4 and dropped the Rams to 4-4 in the process.

“I credit the kids,” said Cheverus coach Ryan Soucie. “It’s all them. It’s got nothing to do with me. We really took a hard look at ourselves as a team. We’ve got a renewed commitment to what we want the season to be about. The kids are playing for and with each other. They’re going hard and executing what we want. We have a synergy and toughness about us right now that I really love.”

Up and down

In a year characterized by parity in Class AA, Cheverus and Gorham have epitomized the belief that any team can win on a given night.

Cheverus started with a 58-48 victory at Windham and after losses at home to South Portland (63-45) and defending AA champion Edward Little (61-56), downed visiting Sanford (61-59) and visiting Bonny Eagle (61-49). The Stags rolled at Lewiston, 77-42, then lost at unbeaten Bangor, 78-60 and at home to Thornton Academy (54-29), before downing visiting Scarborough, the defending Class AA South champion (61-53).

Gorham started with decisive wins over visiting Noble (76-34) and host Massabesic (57-38). After a 61-58 home setback to Deering, the Rams were beaten by visiting Scarborough, 74-59. A 61-51 victory at Sanford was followed by the biggest win of the year, a palpitating 56-53 overtime home win over Portland. Saturday, Gorham lost at two-time defending Class A champion Greely, 72-57.

Last year, Gorham beat visiting Cheverus, 65-53.

Tuesday, the Stags returned the favor in a game that went down to the wire.

The Rams got the jump as Cheverus missed multiple layups early.

A driving layup from sophomore Grant Nadeau opened the scoring and Nadeau set up senior Henry O’Neill for a layup and a 4-0 Gorham lead.

With 4:13 remaining in the opening stanza, Duchaine canned a 3 from the corner and the Stags had their first points, but sophomore Bode Meader hit a jumper in the lane and Nadeau made a layup after a steal for an 8-3 Rams’ advantage.

After Galli scored his first points, banking home a leaner, a layup by Haines restored the five-point lead.

Oryem knocked down a 3 for the hosts, but Nadeau set up O’Neill for a layup and O’Neill made another layup for Gorham’s biggest lead of the night, 14-8, before a 3-ball from sophomore Dylan Morrison pulled Cheverus within three heading for the second period.

There, the Stags kicked it into gear.

A 3-point shot from senior Patrick Foster tied the game and a free throw from Galli gave the hosts their first lead.

After junior Ryan Reno made a layup for the Rams to put them back on top, Duchaine countered with a long 3-ball.

Nadeau tied the score with a driving layup and after Galli got a hook shot to bank in, a putback from Haines tied it up again, 20-20, midway through the frame.

With 3:50 on the clock, Galli made two free throws and Cheverus had the lead for good.

Another long Duchaine 3-pointer extended the lead and after junior Nick Strout converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw) to pull Gorham within two, Oryem made two foul shots and Duchaine sank a 3 from the corner for a 30-23 Stags’ advantage.

Junior Jordan Bretton countered with a 3, but Oryem took a pass from senior Ryan Flaherty and made a layup.

Just before time expired, Nadeau scored on a runner in the lane, but the Stags took a 32-28 lead to the break.

In the first 16 minutes, Duchaine led all scorers with 12 points, while Galli and Oryem each added seven, Nadeau’s eight points kept the Rams close.

Cheverus continued to play well in the third quarter, but couldn’t shake Gorham.

Galli started the second half with a driving layup, then made a free throw, but Meader hit a runner in the lane and Nadeau set up Bretton for a layup that cut the Rams’ deficit to 35-32.

Galli scored on a spinner, which he banked home, but Nadeau answered with a pull-up jumper.

Burke scored on a driving layup for his first points, but Nadeau made two free throws to again make it a three-point game, 39-36.

Burke then made a 3 and Oryem made two free throws. 

After Nadeau set up O’Neill for a layup, Burke made two foul shots and with 1:37 on the clock, on the fastbreak, Duchaine sent an alley-oop pass to Oryem, who caught the ball, hung in the air, then banked it home for a 48-38 lead, forcing Gorham coach Mark Karter to call timeout.

The Rams responded, as Bretton drove for a layup and after senior Richard Joyce made a free throw for the Stags, Haines hit a clutch 3 from the corner just before the horn to pull the visitors within five, 49-44, heading for the final stanza.

Where Cheverus did just enough to close out its victory.

Nadeau started the fourth quarter with a free throw, but after sophomore Nolan Sanborn kept possession alive with a rebound, Burke made a layup, then Burke made one of two foul shots for a 52-45 advantage with 7:13 to play.

Gorham countered with a layup from Strout, but Burke made two free throws.

After Nadeau made a leaner in the lane, Burke countered with a leaner of his own for a 56-49 lead with 6:02 on the clock.

The back-and-forth continued, as Strout put back his own miss, but with 4:54 remaining, Burke banked home a leaner to restore the seven-point lead.

The Rams then made things interesting, as Strout made two free throws and Haines did the same with 3:15 on the clock to make the score, 58-55.

Galli responded with a reverse layup, but Nadeau drove for a layup to keep the margin at three with 2:49 to go.

Morrison then found himself in no-man’s land, but managed to bank home a shot and with 1:15 remaining, two Sanborn free throws made it 64-57 Cheverus, but the Stags weren’t home free just yet.

After Nadeau drove for a layup with 1:07 on the clock, Cheverus turned the ball over and with 46.7 seconds showing, Nadeau drove, drew the defense and set up Haines for a corner 3 which cut the Stags’ lead to a mere two points, 64-62.

But that’s as close as Gorham would get.

With 32 seconds remaining, Duchaine was fouled and he hit both free throws.

Nadeau got the two points back at the line with 24.5 seconds to go, but with 10.6 seconds left, Galli made two free throws for a 68-64 Cheverus advantage.

“I like the challenge,” Galli said. “I knew I had to hit the free throws. I just focused.”

The Rams couldn’t answer and the Stags celebrated their triumph.

“We’ve come together as a team and we’re getting good looks on the offensive end,” said Galli. “We’re rebounding and we hit free throws when we need to. We got inside and we knew shots would fall eventually.”

“We’ve been working hard and I think it all starts in practice,” Oryem said. “The last few practices were reflected in how we played tonight. It’s really big because (Gorham’s) a good team. This will help us out for a playoff spot.”

“Our motto is to grind it out for 32 minutes,” Soucie added. “In this league this year, it’s never over until it’s over. We won’t make every shot, so we have to keep grinding and stay positive. We’re too good to not make shots eventually. We want to get in the paint and kick it out. We want to get paint touches. We have a couple bigs, but we don’t play that way. We want to get to the paint on the dribble and on the bounce and when we successfully do that, we’re hard to guard.”

Cheverus got 21 points from Galli, who also had five rebounds and three assists.

Duchaine drained four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points.

Burke (five rebounds, three steals and two assists) and Oryem each added 11 points.

“I just try to provide energy for the rest of the team,” Oryem said.

Morrison had five points, Foster three (to go with five rebounds and three steals), Sanborn two and Joyce one.

“I’m happy with our bench,” Soucie said. “Dylan has played key minutes as a sophomore. He’s handled the ball well. Akera came in and made plays. He uses his athleticism. Ryan Flaherty, Richard Joyce, (senior) Tommy Higgins. They all come in and know their roles and give me everything they’ve got.”

The Stags enjoyed a 28-23 rebounding advantage, made 20 of 25 free throws and only committed 13 turnovers.

Gorham was led by Nadeau’s 21 points and six assists. Haines had 12 points (and seven boards), Strout nine, Bretton and O’Neill eight apiece, Meader four and Reno two.

The Rams turned the ball over 18 times and hit 11 of 16 free throws.

“We kind of put ourselves in a hole early in the game, then we couldn’t get over the hump,” said Karter. “Kudos to (Cheverus) for executing down the stretch and making foul shots. I thought we did a good job to make a run and put ourselves in a position to win the game, but we couldn’t get the possession to go ahead.”

Busy week

Each team has two games remaining this week.

Gorham is back in action Thursday at Scarborough. Saturday brings a home game versus Lewiston.

“There are a lot of competitive teams and you have to be ready to play when you step on the court, because any night, any team can win,” Karter said. “I think we’re still trying to find ourselves. Our goal is to play the best we can in February. I don’t think we’re there yet. We have huge games coming up. Hopefully we can take that next step.”

Cheverus makes the short trip to Deering Thursday, then travels to Massabesic Saturday.

“We’re as good as anybody,” said Galli. “We want to pick up a big win Thursday against Deering and keep going from there.”

“We have to keep working hard and believe in Coach and the game plan and go out and execute,” Oryem said.

“Deering is a rival and we know we’re in for a battle, so I hope we’re ready and I hope my guys show the same fight they’ve shown the past two games,” Soucie added.

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

Cheverus senior Owen Burke is fouled by Gorham senior Henry O’Neill.

Cheverus sophomore Nolan Sanborn defends Gorham sophomore Grant Nadeau.

Gorham sophomore Bode Meader blocks the shot of Cheverus senior Owen Burke.