Portland senior Sam Gerber holds the ball as Deering junior Nick Langella defends during the Rams’ 38-35 victory Tuesday. Michael Hoffer / For The Forecaster

BOX SCORE

Deering 38 Portland 35

P- 10 5 9 11- 35
D- 7 8 8 15- 38

P- W. Donato 4-1-9, P. Donato 2-2-6, Kiala 2-2-6, Khamis 2-0-4, Tuher 1-0-3, Bouchard 1-0-2, Cross 1-0-2, Gerber 1-0-2, Russell 0-1-1

D- Wani 6-0-15, Semuhoza 2-4-8, Chikuta 2-0-5, Artan 2-0-4, Augusto 1-1-3, Solomon 1-0-2, Langella 0-1-1

3-pointers:
P (1) Tuher 1
D (4) Wani 3, Chikuta 1

Turnovers:
P- 17
D- 16

FTs
P: 6-12
D: 6-12

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PORTLAND—Even in an unorthodox season with seemingly little at stake, it wasn’t remotely surprising that there was little separation when Deering hosted rival Portland in a boys’ basketball showdown Tuesday evening.

And there was little surprise that with the game on the line, the Rams continued their strong play of late and got the job done to emerge victorious.

Deering, two days removed from an inspirational victory over undefeated Falmouth, wasn’t able to generate much offense in the first half against the plucky Bulldogs, who grabbed a 10-7 lead after one quarter, on a bank-shot 3-pointer from sophomore Brady Tuher.

The contest was deadlocked, 15-15, at halftime and after three quarters, Portland held a 24-23 edge, thanks to a late layup from junior Wani Donato.

When freshman Jeissy Khamis made a layup with 3:38 to play, the Bulldogs were up, 32-25, and the Rams were on the ropes, but thanks to some heroics from sophomore Remijo Wani, they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

A Wani 3-pointer gave Deering life and after senior captain and sparkplug Mpore Semuhoza pulled the Rams within a single point on a layup, Wani made his second 3 with 1:09 remaining to put Deering ahead to stay, 36-34.

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Portland had its chances to tie or take the lead, but couldn’t do so and free throws from Semuhoza and junior Nick Langella clinched a 38-35 victory.

The Rams got a game-high 15 points from Wani and improved to 6-3 with their sixth win in seven games, while dropping the Bulldogs to 2-5 in the process.

“Any year (when we play Portland), you throw out the records and you duke it out and we did that tonight,” said Deering coach Todd Wing. “This localized schedule has been tough, but it’s been great. You can’t let down any night.”

To the bitter end

A year ago, Deering beat Portland at the Portland Exposition Building for the first time in 14 years, 50-49, then swept the Bulldogs for the first time in 18 seasons by virtue of a 55-39 home victory.  The Rams then went on to the Class AA North Final before losing to eventual state champion Edward Little.

This winter, Deering has overcome a slow start to emerge as a potent, exciting team capable of beating anyone, even a team that hadn’t lost before.

The Rams started with losses at South Portland (52-47) and at home to the Red Riots (65-54). After getting in the win column with a 48-41 victory at Cape Elizabeth, Deering swept Cheverus (67-51 at home and 61-51 on the road) and defeated visiting Scarborough (49-40). After falling, 67-58, at undefeated Falmouth last Friday, the Rams handed the visiting Yachtsmen their first setback in a thriller Saturday, 69-67.

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“That game showed we could beat a top-quality team and overcome adversity,” Wing said. “Games like that transform into games like this, being down late and being able to make plays.”

Portland, meanwhile, started with a pair of victories over Cheverus, 52-45 at home and 44-30 at the Stags, then fell twice to South Portland, 67-47 at the Red Riots and 56-46 at home. Last week brought a pair of losses to Gorham, 62-34 away and 54-36 at home.

Tuesday, the Bulldogs looked to beat the Rams for the first time since their dramatic Class AA North quarterfinal round upset at the end of the 2018-19 season, but instead, Deering made it three in a row in the series for the first time since the beginning of the century.

But only by the skin of its teeth.

For much of a sluggish first period, the teams combined for more turnovers than points.

Portland opened the scoring on a wild bank shot from sophomore Pita Donato. Semuhoza got the Rams on the board with a free throw and after Wani Donato tied it with a foul shot, Wani scored his first points on a contested bank shot to pull Deering even, 3-3.

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After Wani Donato made a layup for the Bulldogs, junior Kymique Solomon answered with a layup for the Rams.

Junior Jose Kiala made a layup for Portland, but junior Max Chikuta came off the bench and scored on a floater to pull Deering even before Tuher banked home a 3 just before the horn to give the Bulldogs a 10-7 advantage after eight minutes.

There wasn’t much offense in the second period either.

Senior Mohamed Artan banked home a runner, then hit a leaner to put the Rams back on top, but senior Gabe Russell tied the score with a free throw and Wani Donato fed Pita Donato for a 13-11 Portland lead.

After Wani tied the game on a layup, from Semuhoza, he took a feed from junior Titayo Augusto and made another layup to give Deering the lead. Then, a late finger roll from Wani Donato pulled the Bulldogs even at halftime, 15-15.

The back-and-forth continued in the third quarter.

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Semuhoza opened the second half with two free throws, but Pita Donato set up Kiala for a layup and Wani Donato scored on a leaner for a 19-17 Portland lead.

Wani countered with his first 3-pointer, but Pita Donato tied it at the free throw line.

After Chikuta drained a 3 to put the Rams back on top, junior Spencer Cross drove and banked home a shot and in the final minute, a driving layup from Wani Donato made it 24-23 Bulldogs heading for the final stanza.

Where the Rams had to dig deep to pull out the victory.

Senior Jake Bouchard made a layup for Portland to start the fourth quarter and after Semuhoza made a jump shot, Kiala made two free throws, senior Sam Gerber drove for a layup and with 3:38 to play, Khamis’ layup put the Bulldogs ahead by seven, 32-25.

But Deering would save its best for last.

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First, Augusto hit a free throw, then with 2:40 left, after a Semuhoza steal, Augusto scored on a putback to pull the Rams within four.

Seven seconds later, Khamis got free for a layup to make it 34-28, but would be Portland’s final field goal of the game.

With 1:34 on the clock, Wani hit a long 3 and you could feel momentum turn in the Rams’ direction.

Then, after a Solomon steal, Semuhoza made a layup and with 1:27 remaining, Deering only trailed by one, 34-33.

The Bulldogs turned the ball over again and with 1:09 on the clock, Solomon sent a cross-court pass to Wani, who rose and calmly stroked a 3-pointer to put the Rams ahead to stay, 36-34.

“I was just the open man and I was confident,” Wani said. “It feels to good to get this playing time. At the beginning of the year, I didn’t have that much confidence, but playing more gave me confidence to hit shots like that.”

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“Remijo has turned into a consistent 3-point threat,” Wing said. “This year has been fun watching him evolve as a player. He was tentative the first half of the year and now he’s our go-to guy.”

At the other end, Portland got an opportunity to tie when Pita Donato was fouled, but after making his first free throw, Donato missed the second and Wani got the rebound.

Deering was able to milk the clock to 21.6 seconds when Semuhoza was fouled. He made his first attempt, but missed the second and after Pita Donato got the rebound, longtime Bulldogs coach Joe Russo called timeout with 11.4 seconds remaining.

With Portland down and possessing the ball in the waning seconds, what happened two years ago in a similar situation had to cross the minds of many, but unlike the 2019 Class AA North quarterfinal, when the Bulldogs stunned the Rams on Stillman Mahan’s last-second 3-pointer, the Rams were able to finish.

The ball came down low to Wani Donato, but his shot was blocked by Semuhoza.

“I was on the floor for that (2019) game,” Semuhoza said. “We knew we had to buckle down and not give them a good shot.”

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Langella got the rebound with 1.8 seconds showing. Langella then made his first free throw, but missed the second.

Portland got the rebound, but had no time for a desperation heave to force overtime and Deering got to celebrate its 38-35 victory.

“It’s great,” Semuhoza said. “Especially because it’s my senior year. I wanted to beat Portland at home in my senior year. That was my goal tonight. We just focused on the positive stuff.”

“We didn’t come ready in the first half, but we woke up and we executed,” said Wani. “Our energy starts on defense, then it comes to the offense.”

“The message (at the end of the game) was to continue to be smart and continue to do what we do,” Wing added. “We didn’t get gimmicky because we were confident in the lineup we had in there. I’m happy with how we ended the game. We made the plays. We were down and put in a lineup where we knew we could make plays and get turnovers. Credit to the players, they did it. Portland always comes in ready to play. They beat us on the boards and we turned the ball over too much. Credit to them for making those plays.”

Wani led all scorers with 15 points and had three of the game’s five 3-pointers.

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Semuhoza, the Rams’ emotional leader, added eight points and six rebounds.

“As a captain, I have to be that player who gets us going,” Semuhoza said. “We have to depend on each other to get each other energized.”

Chikuta finished with five points and three steals, Artan had four points, Augusto three (to go with six rebounds and a couple assists), Solomon two and Langella one (to go with four steals, four rebounds and a couple assists).

Deering overcame 16 turnovers and 6-of-12 foul shooting.

Portland was paced by Wani Donato’s nine points, six rebounds and four assists.

Pita Donato and Kiala (six rebounds) each had six points, Khamis added four, Tuher three, Bouchard, Cross (six boards) and Gerber two apiece and Russell one.

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The Bulldogs out-rebounded the Rams, 31-24, but made just 6-of-12 free throws and turned the ball over 17 times.

“It was a good game,” Russo said. “We finally found a team that we can compete with. We had to play Gorham and South Portland and those two teams are tough. It was kind of fun to find a team that’s at our level. We don’t do a great job handling pressure and it showed tonight. We have to be assertive with the ball. It’s something we have to work on.”

Once more

The teams will finish the season Thursday night with a rematch over at Deering.

Portland first hosts Biddeford Wednesday.

“It should be another good game Thursday,” Russo said.

The Rams finish at Portland and wish they had even more time to jell and to grow.

“I think we could be a championship team if we’d had a regular season,” Semuhoza said. “Big ups to the sophomores and juniors. They didn’t play much last year. We want to beat Portland one more time. That’s the goal.”

“Thursday’s it,’ Wing said. “It’s a hard stop. One practice, one game. It’s a year unlike any other. This season has succeeded my expectations. I had a nice feeling after beating Falmouth the other day and that continues today. We’re on a little bit of a roll.”

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

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