SACO—Two days after a painful, one-point home loss to Scarborough, Deering’s boys’ basketball team took the floor at Linnell Gymnasium and faced a Thornton Academy squad even more desperate for a victory.

And not surprisingly, no quarter was given as two teams, who are better than their records would indicate, did battle for 32 minutes.

And ultimately, the difference was that the Rams have Evan Legassey and the Golden Trojans do not.

Legassey, Deering’s junior sharpshooting standout, scored eight points to help the visitors cling to a 16-15 lead after one quarter. The Rams, who forced 14 first half turnovers, then opened up a 33-23 halftime advantage.

Thornton Academy didn’t fold and pulled within three, 43-40, after three periods, then tied the score 39 seconds into the fourth on a 3-pointer from junior Trey Eldred, but at the other end, junior Justin Jamal’s layup gave Deering the lead for good.

The Rams then got some big hoops and free throws from Legassey down the stretch and were able to survive and prevail, 66-58.


Legassey scored a game-high 32 points and helped Deering improve to 7-10 and stay alive for a possible home playoff game, while in the process, handing the Golden Trojans their 12th straight setback and dropping them to 4-13.

“I had faith in my team,” Legassey said. “We’re all on the same page and we practice big moments every day.”

Nothing comes easily

Both squads have played hard throughout, but haven’t produced the success they’d hoped.

Deering opened with a 40-35 loss at Scarborough. After a 52-50 buzzer-beating home loss to Thornton Academy, the Rams edged visiting Sanford (48-44) and after a 56-46 setback at rival Portland, edged host Edward Little (50-48) before falling at home to Cheverus, 67-60, and to Lewiston (44-43). The new year began with wins at two-time reigning Class AA champion South Portland (57-47) and at home over Bonny Eagle (63-50). After losses to visiting Portland (58-51) and host Gorham (79-59) and Cheverus (63-50), the Rams shocked visiting Gorham (62-61) and won at Bonny Eagle (62-54). Tuesday, Deering lost at home to South Portland (68-48) and Thursday, the Rams fell just short against visiting Scarborough, 61-60.

Thornton Academy started the season 3-0 and 4-1, but coming into Saturday’s game had dropped 11 straight, capped by a 52-50 setback to Sanford Tuesday.


In the teams’ first meeting, Dec. 12 in Portland, junior Wyatt Benoit’s buzzer-beater was the difference in a two-point Golden Trojans’ triumph. Benoit had 29 points to negate 16 from Jamal and 14 from Legassey.

Saturday, Benoit got his points again, but no one was stopping Legassey and he led the Rams to victory, their first in Saco since Jan. 12, 2016.

Deering sophomore Tayshaun Cleveland and Thornton Academy senior Joshua Vallee take the opening tip of the Rams’ 66-58 victory Saturday. Hoffer photos.

Fittingly, Legassey opened the scoring with two free throws 43 seconds in.

Benoit tied the score with a floater, but Legassey answered with a long 3-pointer and he was just getting warmed up.

“I was feeling it, but it was all set up by my teammates getting me the ball and trusting me,” Legassey said. “Once I see one go in, I get going.”

After Benoit answered with two free throws, Jamal made one, then Legassey buried another 3 before senior Josiah King’s putback made it 11-4 Deering.


Eldred answered with a layup, but Jamal scored on a putback.

After Benoit’s old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul and free throw), Jamal banked home a shot for a 15-9 lead.

With 1:10 remaining in the quarter, sophomore Tayshuan Cleveland, coming off a huge game versus Scarborough Thursday, was called for his second foul, then picked up his third via a technical foul and he had to sit for most of the rest of the half.

Benoit made two free throws and after sophomore Michel Butera hit a foul shot for the Rams, senior Brady Kezal drained a 3-pointer from the corner, then a free throw from sophomore Simon Gellis pulled Thornton Academy within one, 16-15, after eight minutes.

Benoit had nine points in the frame, but eight Golden Trojans’ turnovers and Legassey’s eight points helped Deering hold the slim lead.

Deering junior Evan Legassey drains a free throw for one of his game-high 32 points.

After Legassey opened the second period with two free throws, Gellis banked home a shot and with 5:24 on the clock, senior Joshua Vallee hit a jumper to give Thornton Academy what proved to be its lone lead, 19-18.


The Rams would only trail for 52 seconds, as Butera set up Jamal for a layup, which sparked a 10-0 run, with all the points coming at the rim.

After junior Tavian Lauture found King for a layup, Legassey got to a turnover and raced in for a layup, then Lauture set up senior Sam Anderson for a layup and with 1:45 remaining, Jamal stole the ball and passed ahead to junior Mogga Yanga for a dunk and a 28-19 advantage.

After Golden Trojans coach Mike Nelson called timeout, his team ended the run and a nearly three minute scoring drought when Vallee set up Eldred for a layup, but Legassey answered with another long 3.

In the final minute, Eldred scored on a hook shot, then Legassey put back a shot just before the horn for a 33-23 halftime advantage.

Legassey led the way with 17 points in the first half, but Deering was far from home free.

Deering sophomore Tayshaun Cleveland drives the lane as Thornton Academy junior Trey Eldred (25) and junior Wyatt Benoit defend.

The second half began with Jamal hitting a jumper in the lane to give the Rams their biggest lead of the day.


Back came the Golden Trojans, as Eldred set up Gellis for a layup, senior Joshua Ney drained a jumper, Benoit drove for a layup, then at the midway point of the third period, Benoit took a pass from Gellis and drained a 3 from the corner to cap a 9-0 run, cutting the deficit to 35-32.

After Legassey countered with another long, clutch 3, Ney made two free throws.

After Cleveland and Beniot traded free throws, Cleveland got a jumper in the lane to drop, but Benoit faked out a defender and drove for a layup, then Ney took a feed from Gellis and made a layup to cut the deficit to two.

Anderson countered with a putback, but with 1.8 seconds on the clock, a Gellis free throw pulled Thornton Academy within 43-40.

The Golden Trojans then pulled even early in the fourth quarter, on Eldred’s 3, but Jamal’s driving layup with 7:04 on the clock put Deering back in front and this time, the Rams wouldn’t relinquish the lead.

After Lauture added a free throw, Anderson did the same, then Eldred fouled out, hindering Thornton Academy’s comeback chances.


After Kezal cut the deficit to two with a bank shot, Legassey answered with two free throws.

Junior Zachary Nelson pulled the Golden Trojans within two again on a layup with 3:06 on the clock, but Anderson kept play alive with an offensive rebound, was fouled and made one of two free throws, then Legassey scored on a putback with 2:19 left to make it 52-47.

Benoit made things very interesting 20 seconds later with a corner 3, but that’s as close as the home team would get.

After Legassey scored on a leaner in the lane while being fouled, he missed the and-one free throw, but Jamal got the offensive rebound, was fouled and hit both attempts to push the lead to 56-50 with 1:40 remaining.

Butera then added to the lead with two free throws and with 59 seconds to go, King’s free throw made it 59-50.

Vallee hit two foul shots for Thornton Academy, but Lauture answered with one.


With 34.5 seconds on the clock, a Nelson layup made it a two possession game, but Legassey countered with two free throws.

Vallee made a free throw with 20.2 seconds on the clock, but Legassey then ended all doubt with two more foul shots.

“Hats off to the guys getting (Evan) the ball, understanding who are free throw shooters are,” Rams coach Todd Wing said.

After Benoit converted a three-point play with 14.9 seconds left, Legassey made two more free throws with 13.4 seconds showing and Deering closed out its 66-58 victory.

“We needed this win,” Legassey said. “It feels amazing. (Thornton’s) a tough team and Wyatt’s a really good player.”

“It’s wasn’t easy because TA, despite their record, is a good team and Mike is a very good coach,” Wing said. “He put his team in a position to win the game. I tip my cap to my guys because they made plays. These guys don’t have any clue how hard it is to win down here, so this is a good win. We were supposed to play this game last week, so we had a three-game week this week and the guys responded.


“Today bodes well. We’ve overcome a lot of adversity the past couple years. Guys have stayed mentally ready despite some heartbreaking losses. The good thing about 16- and 17-year-old kids is they have short memories and that benefits them.”

Legassey had himself an afternoon, scoring 32 points.

“That might be a career high for him,” said Wing. “Evan’s taken hundreds of shots and he can fill it up. Part of that is him learning how to manufacture points, not just from behind the 3, but getting to the free throw line and getting into the lane. He’s really learned to be an efficient scorer.”

Jamal added 13 points, as well as nine rebounds, including six on the offensive glass.

Anderson had six points off the bench, King added five (to go with eight rebounds), Butera and Cleveland three apiece and Lauture (three assists) and Yanga two each.

“We have lots of guys who come off the bench who work hard in practice who are able to compete in big moments and help us win,” Legassey said.


The Rams enjoyed a 31-26 rebounding advantage, made 24-of-33 free throws and overcame 18 turnovers.

Thornton Academy was paced by Benoit, who had 23 points, four rebounds and two steals.

Eldred scored nine points before fouling out, Gellis had six (to go with four assists, three rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots), Ney six, Kezal five, Vallee five (to go with seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks) and Nelson four.

The Golden Trojans made 14-of-20 foul shots, but were done in in part by 27 turnovers.

“It was a tough game to get into any flow,” Mike Nelson said. “(The Rams) play physical and we had to be ball strong and we weren’t at times. We had our opportunities and that seems like when we were at our least solid. Their guards really crash and rebound. Our guards have to be able to block out and control that. They got a lot of offensive rebounds.”

One left


Thornton Academy, ranked sixth in the Class AA South Heal Points standings, closes at Bonny Eagle Thursday of next week.

“We play hard and the kids don’t quit,” Mike Nelson said. “I believe in them and I really think at some point, this thing is going to turn. Our practices are unbelievable. The effort and focus. The guys even come up with solutions when we talk about other teams. They’re all in. We just need something to feel good about. Enough of moral victories. We’ve got to earn it. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot.”

Deering, currently fourth in Class AA South, finishes at Sanford Tuesday. If the Rams finished third (a faint possibility with a win at the Spartans) or fourth, they’ll host a quarterfinal round playoff game against either South Portland or Thornton Academy.

“We’re hoping to get a home game,” said Legassey. “Playing in our home gym with our home crowd really gives us the energy we need. We’re OK on offense, but our defense needs to lock teams down. We can beat anyone and lose to anyone. I hope no one in the state of Maine sleeps on us because we’re coming. We’re going to make a lot of noise.”

“I think there’s a minute chance of getting number three, but without question we want to stay four,” Wing said. “We want that home gym advantage. We have the pieces. We’ve shown that in multiple games. It’s about putting those pieces together and solving the puzzle. It comes down to putting the ball in the ring.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at For game updates and links to game stories, follow him on Threads: @foresports2023

Comments are not available on this story.