BOX SCORE

Deering 61 Cheverus 46

C- 10 12 10 14- 46
D- 10 15 21 15- 61

C- Galli 8-1-17, Morrison 4-1-11, Kelly 2-3-7, Nsengiyumva 3-0-6, Knowles 2-0-5

D- Germain 7-2-20, Morrione 4-2-13, Anda 5-0-11, Semuhoza 4-1-9, Houssein 4-0-8

3-pointers:
C (3) Morrison 2, Knowles 1
D (8) Germain 4, Morrione 3, Anda 1

Turnovers:
C- 13
D- 12

FTs
C: 5-9
D: 5-10

PORTLAND—The goal was simple.

Get back to the Civic Center.

And thanks to a simple approach in the second half, Deering’s boys’ basketball team will do that very thing.

The third-seeded Rams had their hands full against No. 6 Cheverus in Wednesday evening’s Class AA North quarterfinal on Deering’s home floor, as the game was deadlocked, 10-10, after one period and the Rams clung to a 25-22 halftime advantage.

But one year after a painful buzzer-beating upset loss to rival Portland in the quarterfinals, Deering hit its stride in the second half and pulled away to its first quarterfinal round victory in four seasons.

Senior Max Morrione made a 3-pointer to set the tone, senior Askar Houssein returned from sitting with foul trouble to direct an offensive onslaught, senior Darryl Germain buried a couple of 3s and by the time the third period was done, the Rams had nearly matched their first half scoring output and enjoyed a 46-32 advantage.

Down the stretch, the Stags never drew closer than 11 points and Deering pulled away for a 61-46 victory.

Germain had a game-high 20 points, Morrione added 13 and senior Loki Anda also finished in double figures with 11 as the Rams improved to 14-5, ended the Stags’ season at 4-15 and advanced to meet second-ranked, defending state champion Bangor (16-3) in the semifinals Wednesday of next week at the “Civic Center,” now officially known as the Cross Insurance Arena.

“We tried to move past last year, but it’s something in the back of your head always,” Morrione said. “We’re excited to play at the Civic Center. We’ve been waiting for that.”

High stakes

Deering and Cheverus, surprisingly, haven’t met very frequently over the years in the postseason, just six times since 1964 (see sidebar, above, for results) heading into play Wednesday.

The last meeting came in the 2012 Western A semifinals, a 52-49 victory for the Rams en route to their most recent state championship. That game was also notable as it was the final appearance on the sidelines of legendary Stags’ coach Bob Brown.

This winter, Deering came in as the favorite by virtue of a strong 13-5 campaign (see sidebar, above, for previous stories). The Rams struggled against top-ranked Edward Little and second-seeded Bangor, losing both meetings, and they also fell at undefeated, Class AA South top seed South Portland, but they handled everyone else and even swept Portland for the first time in 18 seasons.

Cheverus, meanwhile, had its moments and was competitive in most games, but the absence of injured senior Nick Galli (who was back for the end of the season) for much of the year hurt the cause and the Stags only managed to post four victories, their fewest in 20 years.

Deering beat Cheverus twice this winter, 75-59 at home Jan. 2 and 58-39 Jan. 24 at Cheverus.

Wednesday, the Stags sought their first victory over the Rams in six tries and their first in the postseason since 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was president and Carl Yastrzemski was about to enter his fifth season with the Red Sox, but Deering wasn’t about to be upset and thanks to a dynamic and balanced attack, it managed to advance to the big stage.

The Rams shot to a quick lead, as Anda made a 3, then took a pass from senior Mike Randall and made a layup and after junior Dylan Morrison made a jumper to get Cheverus on the board, Germain’s first 3 produced an 8-2 lead.

After a pair of free throws from Stags’ senior Macklin Kelly, Germain countered with two foul shots, but with Houssein and Randall hindered by two fouls apiece, Cheverus finished the quarter strong, as Galli made a leaner in the lane, Galli scored on a floater and Kelly scored on a putback to make it 10-10 after eight minutes.

When sophomore Bryant Nsengiyumva scored on a putback 31 seconds into the second quarter, Cheverus had its lone lead of the night, but it lasted just 32 seconds before Anda tied the score with a fastbreak layup, off a feed from Germain.

Morrione’s first 3 put Deering on top, but Houssein picked up his third foul with 5:35 to go and had to sit for the rest of the half.

After Nsengiyumva banked home a floater, Rams’ junior sixth-man Mpore Semuhoza first made his presence felt with a putback.

Morrison cut the deficit to one again with a bank shot, but Anda set Semuhoza up for a layup while he was being fouled and Semuhoza completed the three-point play with a free throw for a 20-16 lead.

Semuhoza played a bigger role than usual Wednesday, as senior Jesse Kamalandua was sidelined after getting two technical fouls in Deering’s last game.

“Mike and Jesse are the two biggest guys on the team and with Jesse out and Mike getting fouls, I knew I had to help the team,” Semuhoza said. “I knew I had to get going.”

Morrison countered with a 3, but Germain drove for a layup.

With 1:09 to go in the half, a 3-point shot from Stags’ senior Luke Knowles tied the score for the final time, but 29 seconds later, a Morrione 3 allowed the Rams to take a 25-22 advantage to halftime.

In the first half, Cheverus had a nearly 2-to-1 edge on the glass and that was one of Deering’s focal points at the break.

“Cheverus came in and hit some shots in the first half and they attacked the boards and played hard,” said Rams’ coach Todd Wing. “We talked at the half about simplifying. Rebound, value the basketball and take good shots. It’s a simple game.”

When the second half began, it didn’t take long for Deering to demonstrate it heeded its coach’s message.

Morrione opened the third quarter scoring with a 3-pointer and after Galli drove and banked home a shot, Morrione blocked a shot on the defensive end, grabbed the loose ball and passed ahead to Houssein for his first points on a layup.

Houssein then made a layup after a steal and with 4:20 to go in the third quarter, Houssein set up Semuhoza for a layup and a double-digit advantage, 34-24.

“Coach told us to step it up on defense because we knew we can score the ball easily,” Semuhoza said.

“We refocused on the game plan, cutting down on their offensive rebounds and attacking the rim,” Morrione said.

“These guys feed off each other,” Wing added. “We got some easy looks and executed in the halfcourt to extend the lead. We played good team basketball.”

After Galli stemmed the tide with a putback, Anda finished with his left hand to make it a 10-point game again.

Nsengiyumva answered with a leaner in traffic, but Germain knocked down a 3 and after Galli scored after a spin move, Germain took another 3, which hit the rim, bounced a couple times, then fell through the net for a 42-30 lead with 1:52 remaining in the frame.

Kelly got two points back with a leaner, but Anda drove for a layup and Houssein made a layup after a steal for a 46-32 advantage heading to the final stanza.

“We missed some easy buckets in the second half and our misses were compounded by them getting out in transition,” lamented Cheverus coach Ryan Soucie. “We wanted to limit that, but they made shots and we didn’t. We tried to shift up defenses and credit to them, they executed against what we were trying to do.”

Galli provided the Stags a little hope when he opened the fourth quarter with a three-point play, but Morrione threw a touchdown pass to Houssein for a layup, then Germain made a runner in the lane to make it 50-35 with 6:27 to play.

Morrison made a free throw, but Semuhoza countered with a leaner.

Morrison drained a 3, but Morrione made two free throws to push the lead back to 15.

After a Kelly free throw, Deering ended any remaining doubt, as Germain sank his final 3, Germain took a pass from Randall and made a layup and with 1:52 to go, on the fastbreak, Houssein found Morrione for a layup and a 61-40 advantage.

“Askar adds a different element to our game,” Morrione said. “Guys get more open because they collapse on him and he does a nice job finding us.”

Down the stretch, Galli made a leaner and a layup and Knowles made a layup to bring the curtain down on the Rams’ 61-46 triumph.

Germain had a game-high 20 points and he also grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists

Morrione added 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

Anda had 11 points.

Semuhoza made the most of his minutes with nine points.

“Mpore did a great job stepping up when we needed him tonight,” said Morrione.

“Mpore embraces his role,” Wing said. “He’s a tough matchup. He’s mobile and has nice post moves and he can guard bigs. He’s invaluable.”

Houssein, despite being limited in the first half with foul trouble, tallied eight points and dished out eight assists, while also posting three steals.

“Askar had a great floor game tonight,” Wing said. “There’s no mystery why Darryl and Max hit their shots because he gave them good passes in their spots. He gave us great looks in transition. I’m proud of how he played.”

Randall didn’t score, but collected seven rebounds.

“We haven’t had everyone play their best game yet and we’re still trending up,” Wing said.

Deering made just 5-of-10 free throws, but only turned the ball over 12 times.

A tough road

Cheverus was led by Galli, who bowed out with 17 points and six rebounds.

Morrison also wound up in double figures with 11 points, four rebounds, four steals and a pair of impressive blocked shots.

Kelly added seven points and eight rebounds, Nsengiyumva tallied six points and six rebounds and Knowles finished with five points.

The Stags held a 32-28 rebounding advantage, but committed 13 turnovers and hit just 5-of-9 free throws.

Cheverus played valiantly, but ultimately didn’t have enough firepower.

“I’m proud of my kids,” Soucie said. “They played hard. We knew we were the underdogs. I hope we made (Deering) think a little bit.

“It’s been a very trying year. Nick being out hurt us and we battled illnesses. We entered the season with three guys who played JV last year, one guy who was a seventh man and our starting point guard and our bench played freshman ball last year, so we didn’t have much experience.

“We’ll miss our seniors, but I think we grew. Guys gained valuable experience.”

A big problem

Bangor handled No. 7 Oxford Hills, 79-55, in its quarterfinal Wednesday and will come south next week full of confidence after winning a championship in Portland a year ago, as well as having swept Deering this season.

Bangor beat Deering at the Portland Exposition Building, 65-44, Jan. 24, then won again on in its home floor Feb. 3, 67-48. Bangor big man Sam Martin gave Deering fits in the regular season and will be a focal point in the rematch, when the squads play for just the second time in the playoffs (Bangor won an epic 57-56 Class A state final in 2001 on Joe Campbell’s unforgettable buzzer-beater).

“We have to take care of their big guys down low and work the ball around them,” Semuhoza said.

“We’ll study film, figure out what we want to do and mix things up a little bit,” said Morrione. “We’ll be focused.”

“We’re writing our own story this year,” Wing added. “That’s where our focus is. We want to survive and advance. Bangor’s a quality team. We have to limit their bigs. They’re fundamentally sound. We just have to bring our best game.”

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

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