BOX SCORE

Oxford Hills 59 Deering 55

OH-13 15 23 8- 59
D- 14 12 14 15- 55

OH- Pelletier 5-10-20, Pulkkinen 6-0-13, Dillingham 4-4-12, Soehren 2-0-5, Bickford 1-0-3, Carson 1-0-3, Oufiero 1-0-3

D- Legassey 4-3-14, Chikuta 4-2-12, Augusto 4-1-9, Wani 2-2-7, Willings 2-1-6, Lindsay 2-1-5, Fuller 1-0-2

3-pointers:
OH (5) Bickford, Carson, Oufiero, Pulkkinen, Soehren 1
D (7) Legassey 3, Chikuta 2, Wani, Willings 1

Turnovers:
OH- 16
D- 12

FTs
OH: 14-23
D: 10-23

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PORTLAND—You can throw Deering boys’ basketball team’s record out the window.

That’s because the Rams are formidable and visiting Oxford Hills knew that to be the case when the Vikings paid a visit Monday evening.

So getting pushed for 32 minutes wasn’t a big surprise, but Oxford Hills, considered a top contender in Class AA North, did just enough, thanks to its play in the paint and foul shooting, to get out of the big city with a pivotal late-regular season victory.

Deering raced to an early 14-5 lead before the Vikings closed the first quarter on an 8-0 run. A back-and-forth second period saw Oxford Hills go ahead to stay on a jumper from sophomore Teigan Pelletier and it clung to a 28-26 advantage at the half.

The Vikings then threatened to run away and hide when they started the second half on a 12-3 run and took a 51-40 lead to the fourth quarter.

There, the Rams roared back and a 3-pointer from senior Max Chikuta and a Chikuta layup cut the deficit to a single point, 54-53, with 1:02 to play.

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But down the stretch, Deering missed all three of its free throw attempts, while Pelletier hit 5-of-6 and Oxford Hills held on for a 59-55 victory.

Pelletier led all scorers with 20 points as the Vikings improved to 11-3 and in the process, stopped the Rams’ modest two-game win streak and dropped them to 4-9.

“We’re still figuring out our identity, but we don’t quit,” said Deering coach Todd Wing. “A week-and-a-half ago, people outside the program probably thought we were dead in the water, but I think we’ve proved that to be the contrary.”

Not quite enough

Deering has played better than its record indicates, as the Rams have been competitive in virtually every game, with positive results just recently starting to come their way.

Deering opened 64-55 home win over Bonny Eagle, then lost at Cheverus (73-72, in overtime), at Bangor (74-55), at Oxford Hills (66-53), at home to Portland (45-40) and at reigning Class AA champion Edward Little (83-55) before getting back on track with a 61-59 win at Windham. Losses to visiting Cheverus (64-55), Lewiston (67-62) and South Portland (66-52) followed before last week, the Rams gave Wing his 100th victory, 64-59, over visiting Edward Little, then rallied to knock off host Lewiston (61-56).

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Oxford Hills, meanwhile, started with a 66-65 home loss to Edward Little, then defeated host Lewiston (60-54), visiting Windham (80-71), visiting Deering (66-53) visiting Hampden Academy (91-68), visiting Noble (67-43), visiting Lewiston (70-63) and visiting Massabesic (68-32) before its seven-game win streak was snapped at Edward Little (47-35) and the Vikings followed with a 52-43 setback at Portland before downing visiting Cheverus (64-51), host Bangor (81-69) and visiting Portland (45-40).

In the teams’ first meeting Dec. 20, junior Remijo Wani had 17 points for Deering, but the Rams dug a 12-point first quarter hole and couldn’t answer, as Oxford Hills was paced by 19 points from junior Cole Pulkinnen and 18 from Pelletier.

Monday, Deering hoped to beat the Vikings for the first time since sweeping a pair of meetings in the 2019-20 season, but Oxford Hills made just enough plays to eke one out.

Oxford Hills’ 6-foot-10 senior Colby Dillingham hinted at a dominant night to come in the paint with a putback 24 seconds into the game.

Pelletier then added a free throw, but Rams senior Alex Willings, who has been sidelined much of the season, tied the score with a 3-pointer.

After Pelletier took a pass from junior Eli Soehren and made a layup to put the Vikings back in the lead, the next 11 points went to Deering, as freshman Evan Legassey continued his strong play with a 3-ball, Willings drove for a layup, Chikuta stepped back and buried a 3 and after Legassey made a foul shot, Legassey set up sophomore Quinton Lindsay for a layup and a 14-5 advantage.

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Oxford Hills then roared back to close the frame, as Pulkkinen snapped a 3-minute, 36-second drought with a short jumper, junior Tanner Bickford made a 3 and Soehren added another 3-ball to cut the deficit to just one.

Senior Titayo Augusto started the second quarter for the Rams with a leaner, but Pulkkinen answered with a driving layup, then Dillingham tipped home a miss to put the visitors back in the lead and Pulkkinen added a putback to cap a 14-2 run.

Deering sophomore Quinton Lindsay makes a free throw during the first half Monday night. Hoffer photo.

Willings countered with a free throw, Lindsay sank a foul shot and Wani scored his first points on a layup, but Pulkkinen drove for a layup to give the Vikings the lead back, 21-20.

Legassey then tied it with a free throw and after Pelletier made a short jumper, Legassey’s 3-ball with 2:42 to go in the half gave Deering its last lead, 24-23.

Pelleiter put Oxford Hills back on top with a jumper from the elbow as the lead changed hands for the sixth and final time, then Dillingham made a free throw and Pelletier hit another jumper before a late leaner from Lindsay pulled the Rams within two points, 28-26, at the break.

Legassey had eight first half points for Deering, but the dominance of Pelletier (nine points, seven rebounds) and Pulkkinen (eight points, four assists) allowed the Vikings to cling to the lead.

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Oxford Hills then threatened to run away and hide at the start of the second half.

Senior Isaiah Oufiero got things started with a 3-pointer and after Legassey answered with a 3, Pulkkinen sank a long 3, Dillingham made a jumper, Dillingham sank two free throws, then Oufiero set up Soehren for a layup and a 40-29 advantage.

After Wing called timeout, the Rams tried to rally, as Wani made a 3, Augusto made a layup after a steal and Wani sank two free throws to cut the deficit to four.

“We don’t want to work so hard for every possession, so it’s good to get an easy one in transition,” Wing said. “It gets our energy up and allows us to set up some pressure.”

But Pelletier made a layup and Pelletier set up Dillingham for a layup to make it 44-36.

After Augusto went coast-to-coast for a layup, Pulkkinen made a layup, then sophomore Jake Carson sank a 3 and the Vikings’ lead was back up to 11.

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In the waning seconds, junior Julian Fuller hit a jumper for Deering, but at the horn, Pelletier was fouled and made both attempts to give Oxford Hills a 51-40 advantage heading to the fourth period.

Where the Rams continued to rally.

Chikuta started the final stanza with a free throw, then Augusto converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul and free throw) before a Chitkuta foul shot cut the deficit to six.

Pelletier answered with two free throws, but after Legassey made a layup and Dillingham made one foul shot, Chikuta sank a 3 to make it 54-51 with 1:33 to go.

After Soehrn missed the front end of a one-and-one, Chikuta drove and made a layup while being fouled with 1:02 on the clock. Chikuta had a chance to tie it with the and-one free throw, but it was off-target.

The Vikings got the ball to Pelletier, who was fouled and went to the line for a one-and-one with 35.1 seconds on the clock. Pelletier calmly sank both attempts to stretch the lead back to three.

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Willings then was fouled and had a chance to draw Deering closer, but he was long on both attempts.

With 11.6 seconds remaining, Pelletier went back to the line and while he missed his first attempt, he made the second to make it a two-possession contest.

Chikuta kept hope alive by driving for a layup with 5.6 seconds on the clock, to cut Oxford Hills’ lead to 57-55, but the Vikings managed to get the ball in to Pelletier, who was fouled and with 1.1 seconds to go, made both attempts to bring the curtain down on a 59-55 victory.

“(The Vikings are) big and physical and rugged Western Maine kids,” Wing said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

“I knew it would get interesting because (Deering’s) a quality team,” said longtime Oxford Hills coach Scott Graffam, now in his 40th year. “Their record doesn’t indicate how they’re playing. They just beat EL and Lewiston, so I had no illusions about blowing them out. We didn’t shoot well in the first half, but our size bothered them and I think that was an issue. We handled the ball well enough against their press to take care of business at the end. They can shoot the ball well and they’ll be dangerous. I just told my kids in the locker room that I don’t want to play them again.”

Pelletier finished with 20 points, to go with 13 rebounds and three assists. Pulkkinen had 13 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals. Dillingham also finished in double figures with a dozen points. He also had 13 rebounds and a game-high three blocked shots. Soehren had five points and Bickford, Carson and Oufiero added three points apiece.

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Oxford Hills finished with a 48-34 rebound advantage, overcame 16 turnovers and hit 14-of-23 free throws.

Legassey paced Deering with 14 points. Chikuta had 12 points, five assists and five rebounds, Augusto nine points, seven rebounds and four steals, Wani seven points, Willings six (to go with six boards), Lindsay five and Fuller two.

The Rams committed 12 turnovers and were hindered in large part by 10-of-23 foul shooting.

“It’s kind of been a turbulent week-and-a-half of no practice where we didn’t get reps in, but these guys worked their tails off,” Wing said. “I think getting Alex back has sparked us. We’ve gotten key contributions off the bench and Evan has been a proven scorer. Remi never lets down and tonight, Max was really solid with the basketball and we’re looking for him to lead us down the stretch.”

No rest for the weary

Both teams have a lot of games to play the final 10 days of the regular season before turning their attention to the tournament.

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Oxford Hills (ranked second in the Class AA North Heal Points standings at press time) is back in town Tuesday when it goes to Cheverus. The Vikings go to Bangor Friday, then close next week at Windham and Hampden Academy.

“We want to get games in and get ready (for the tournament),” said Graffam. “We’ll sleep when the season’s over. We’re getting close to where we want to be.”

The Rams are back in action Wednesday at home versus Windham, then have a makeup game at Westbrook Thursday before hosting Hampden Academy Friday. Next Tuesday, they go to Portland, then they close Feb. 10 at Scarborough.

“As a coach, I look at all these games as a positive,” Wing said. “We have one day of practice, then we’ll rattle off three in a row, so it’s go-time. These guys have stuck through the hard times and that’s the cohesion you want to have to win in February.”

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

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