SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland Red Riots put on a shooting display that left Deering coach Dan LeGage simply shaking his head.
“I haven’t seen any team shoot that well in a couple years,” LeGage said. “There’s not a lot you can do. You try to close out quickly, challenge it and box out, but there were no rebounds. They just shot unbelievably well in that first half.”
South Portland hit nine first-half 3-pointers — six of those coming in the first quarter — to take a commanding lead on its way to an 86-64 win over Deering in Thursday night’s boys’ basketball game at Beal Gymnasium.
The Red Riots, who entered the game ranked fourth in the Western Class A Heal Point Standings, improved to 11-3, sweeping the regular-season series with the Rams (No. 5 entering the game), who dropped to 9-5. South Portland won 50-39 when the teams met in Portland.
Coming off a 63-46 loss to Cheverus their last time out, the Red Riots were sizzling from the get-go. Deering took a 2-0 lead as senior Jackson Frey scored quickly off the opening tip, but South Portland answered with a 16-0 run over the next four minutes. Senior Vukasin Vignjevic had 11 points, including three 3s, during the run, while sophomore Tanner Hyland added five.
After Deering sophomore Thiwat Thiwat’s three-point play, the Red Riots rattled off another nine straight to take a 25-5 lead, courtesy of two more Vignjevic 3s, with a three-point play by senior Matt Russell in-between. Two free throws by Deering senior Riko Augustino made it 25-7 at the end of one.
Vignjevic scored 17 of his game-high 27 points — and made all five of his 3s — in the first quarter, but wanted to share the credit for his blistering start.
“The team set great screens,” he said. “I was getting wide open. Tanner was getting me the ball. It was a great first quarter for me and the rest of the team.”
It was Hyland’s turn to heat up in the second quarter, when he scored 10 of his 23 points, including five straight to snuff out a 8-2 Deering run that had pulled the Rams to within 14. He also knocked down five 3s in the game, as South Portland finished with 12 as a team.
The Red Riots extended their lead to 25 at the half, leading 48-23.
“We shot the ball extremely well in the first half,” said South Portland coach Phil Conley. “The thing I was most impressed with tonight was how the kids shared the ball and moved the ball around. We finished with 25 assists as a team.
“I’m very proud because Deering is a very good team, very athletic. It’s a great win coming off a loss against Cheverus last week. Our kids responded. That was a character test — how do you respond after getting beat by 17 against Cheverus? They definitely showed me tonight what I’ve thought all along — that we have a great character team.”
Deering turned to a full-court press in the second half, which forced some turnovers and led to some easy baskets in transition as junior Jon Amabile scored nine of his team-high 13 points in the third quarter and chipped away at the deficit, but it was too much to overcome. The Rams trailed 65-47 entering the fourth quarter and got no closer over the final eight minutes.
“I told our guys we just have to regroup quickly and fight tomorrow,” LeGage said. “There’s a chance to get this bad taste out of our mouth quickly when we turn around and play Windham tomorrow night.”
Deering, after visiting Windham on Friday, hosts Marshwood on Saturday and Cheverus on Tuesday. A Thursday showdown with cross-town rival Portland closes the regular-season.
South Portland also has a brutal final stretch, visiting Bonny Eagle on Friday, hosting Westbrook on Saturday then Portland on Tuesday, before closing out at Cheverus next Friday.
“We’ll take it one game at a time,” Conley said. “We have three games this week against three very good opponents. The teams from 2 to 6 (in the standings) could go any way. Up to the last game of the season, it’s going to affect the standings.”
Junior Logan Gaddar added 11 points for South Portland.
Sophomore Labson Abwoch scored nine for Deering, while Frey, Thiwat and senior John Hughes all scored eight.
South Portland sophomore Tanner Hyland pulls up for two of his 23 points on Thursday night.
Deering senior John Hughes finishes on a fast break.
South Portland senior Steve Hodge attempts a reverse layup as he’s defended by Deering sophomore Labson Abwoch.
Deering senior Jamie Ross puts up a hook shot over South Portland senior Vukasin Vignjevic.
Deering sophomore Labson Abwoch takes the ball to the hoop while being defended by South Portland junior Logan Gaddar.
South Portland senior Vukasin Vignjevic drives to the hoop while guarded by Deering senior John Hughes. Vignjevic finished with a game-high 27 points to lead the Red Riots to an 86-64 win on Thursday night.
More photos below