Bulldogs pass another road test
SCARBOROUGH—The highly touted Portland boys' basketball team has mastered the art of winning close games.
The Scarborough Red Storm is still learning.
That was the takeaway from Friday evening's highly entertaining, closer-than-anticipated early season Western Class A battle.
Scarborough led the Bulldogs much of the way and twice drew even in the fourth quarter, but Portland, which overcame a sluggish start, saved its best for last.
The Bulldogs, who missed 18 of their first 20 3-point attempts, kept firing away and with the game hanging in the balance, finally got some clutch shots to drop.
With the game deadlocked, 44-44, junior Jayvon Pitts-Young put the visitors ahead to stay with a 3-ball with 4:46 to go. After Pitts-Young made a layup after a steal, Red Storm senior sharpshooter Kevin Manning cut the lead to two with a 3 of his own, but back-to-back treys from Pitts-Young and junior Justin Zukowski broke Scarborough's will.
Portland went on to a 63-53 victory behind 19 points from Pitts-Young, 15 from Zukowski and 14 points and a whopping 17 rebounds from junior big man extraordinaire Matt Talbot to improve to 5-0 on the season, dropping the up-and-coming Red Storm to 2-3.
"We know how to win now," Zukowski said. "We have the mindset to win. We don't really let anything bother us at the end of games."
While Portland attempted to downplay its status as the favorite entering the season, the Bulldogs have done nothing to dissuade the pundits during the 2012 portion of the schedule.
After a 57-39 home win over Marshwood, Portland rolled at Sanford, 68-48, and at Cheverus, 73-49. Tuesday, the Bulldogs made their biggest statement to date, holding off visiting Bonny Eagle in a down-to-the-wire thriller, 55-52.
Scarborough, which was ousted in the preliminary round last year for the sixth time in nine seasons, welcomed a new coach this winter in Tony DiBiase, who has a long and storied history, including a stint at Portland last century, where he led the Bulldogs to the 1986 Class A state championship.
DiBiase and the Red Storm opened with a 66-49 home win over Gorham, then, after falling in close decisions at Westbrook (63-59) and Marshwood (77-74), downed visiting Windham, 68-49.
Portland had won eight of the previous nine meetings between the schools (see sidebar) dating back to the 2003-04 season. Scarborough's only win came in 2009-10 (58-45). The Red Storm had never beaten the Bulldogs in Scarborough.
Last year, host Portland had to go to overtime to survive the Red Storm, 63-60, at the Portland Exposition Building.
Friday, the Bulldogs were pushed, but managed to prevail and stay undefeated.
Portland really struggled in the early going, turning the ball over on its first four possessions. Scarborough took advantage as senior John Wheeler broke the ice with a bank shot and after Pitts-Young gave the Bulldogs their first points with a putback, Manning hinted at a big night to come with a 3 for a 5-2 lead.
Portland got a layup after a steal from Pitts-Young and a layup by Talbot to go ahead, 6-5, but a putback from senior Brendan Hall gave the Red Storm the lead right back and sparked a 10-0 run.
A layup from senior Sam Terry followed. Wheeler then made consecutive layups and when Terry scored on a putback with 2:37 left in the opening quarter, Scarborough had a healthy 15-6 lead.
It didn't last.
By quarter's end, the Bulldogs had trimmed their deficit to two as senior Nick Volger's putback snapped the Scarborough surge and was followed by a Pitts-Young 3 and a pair of free throws from senior Steve Angelo, who gave Portland a jolt off the bench.
Just 27 seconds into the second period, the Bulldogs tied the game on a layup from Angelo.
Twenty-seven seconds later, a Talbot tip-in gave Portland a 17-15 advantage and capped an 11-0 run.
The Red Storm tied the score on two Manning foul shots, ending a nearly five minute drought, but another Talbot tip-in made it 19-17 Bulldogs.
A Manning jumper forged another tie with 4:36 remaining in the half, but 24 seconds later, Scarborough senior sparkplug Dillon Russo was whistled for his third foul.
Undaunted, the Red Storm retook the lead, 21-19, on a pair of Wheeler free throws. After Pitts-Young tied the game with a layup, Manning sank another 3 to make it 24-21 Scarborough with 2:53 to go before the break, but the hosts wouldn't score again in the quarter.
A layup from sophomore Steve Alex and a layup after a steal from Pitts-Young put Portland on top at halftime, 25-24.
Despite their slow start and a dozen turnovers, the Bulldogs had persevered.
"We knew that (Scarborough is) fast and quick and that they like up-tempo basketball,' said Bulldogs coach Joe Russo. "One of our goals was to match their energy and we didn't. That put us in a hole a little bit. The rest of the first half, we were rushing and that didn't help. Along the way, everybody did some nice things to keep us in a tie game. Steve Angelo got us through that first half."
The second half would remain close.
A putback by Hall, who was fouled and added the free throw for an old fashioned three-point play, gave Scarborough a 27-25 advantage a minute into the third period. Talbot tied the score with a layup, but Manning got free for a 3-ball which was on target to make it 30-27 Red Storm, which would prove to be its final lead.
Again, Portland went on a run as Zukowski got in on the fun.
With 5:20 to go in the third, the junior drove for a layup, was fouled and hit the free throw to tie the score. Just over a minute later, Zukowski scored on a layup after a steal to put the Bulldogs on top. Senior Nate Smart added a putback and despite Dillon Russo's return, Alex made a driving layup to give Portland a 36-30 advantage.
Two Hall free throws with 2:33 remaining in the quarter ended the 9-0 surge, but a Talbot putback and a 3-ball from junior reserve Travis Godbout extended the lead to 41-32.
"Travis is a good shooter," Portland coach Russo said. "He missed his first one, but I told him to keep looking and he made his second."
Scarborough crept back to 41-36 as Dillon Russo made a layup and Hall converted a driving layup to make it anyone's game entering the final period.
When Manning began the fourth with a 3 and Terry added a jumper, the game was tied, 41-41, with 6:04 still to play.
Then, Portland, which had made just 2-of-20 3-point attempts to that point, got hot from the perimeter at just the right time.
Zukowski found the range with 5:39 left, but Hall answered with his own 3 28 seconds later and it was 44-44.
Then, it would be Pitts-Young's turn, as his 3 with 4:46 to play put the Bulldogs on top to stay.
"Coach told us to get to the basket and take a few jump shots,' said Pitts-Young. "That's what we did. It set us up to get a few shots."
Pitts-Young added a layup after a steal, but Manning countered with a 3, making it a 49-47 game.
That would be as close as Scarborough would draw.
A 3 from Pitts-Young and another from Zukowski pushed the lead to 55-47 and when Pitts-Young fed Talbot for a layup off an inbounds pass with 1:37 to play, Portland had its biggest lead, 57-47.
"In the second half, we were more assertive and confident," Russo said. "We got separation, then we got back into a lull. Then we got separation. We were shooting 3s and rushing, so I said, 'Get to the rim.' We tried that, but they collapsed well and waited for it. I told them to shoot again from the outside. Justin and Jayvon hit some big ones. Jayvon had a couple turnovers, then steals for layups. With him, you have to calm him down. I told him to penetrate and not take 3s. That wasn't the best advice because they were packing it in. J will make his mistakes, but he'll give you the other end and he seems to come through in crunch time."
A 3 from Hall kept faint hope alive for the hosts, but with 49.8 seconds showing, Talbot hit both ends of a one-and-one and nine seconds later, Zukowski essentially iced it with a layup after a steal.
Terry hit one final 3 with 22.7 seconds to go, but two seconds later, Pitts-Young sank a pair of free throws and that accounted for the Bulldogs' 63-53 victory, which was much closer than the final score indicated.
"In the first half, we were bothered by their halfcourt zone press, then we got over that in the second half," Zukowski said. "They beat us for loose balls all game until the end."
"Every time we were tested, we would bend, but we wouldn't quite break," Russo said. "I have to figure out the puzzle because they haven't been easy the past couple games. Not that I thought they would be. Scarborough played a great game, shot well down the stretch, played their butts off. We expected the pressure, but we didn't handle it at the beginning. I was a little surprised that we had a late start. We shouldn't be doing that."
Pitts-Young had a team-high 19 points, added eight rebounds and four steals.
"We came out a little flat and started out slow," said Pitts-Young. "We weren't there in the beginning. We got it under control. We clicked as a unit, moved the ball and hit some shots. It's coming along, but we need to pick it up. We have a long way to go. I'm not happy with where we are right now. Talbot had 17 rebounds, but it still felt like they beat us on the boards. We have to come out with more energy."
Zukowski stormed to life in the second half, scoring all 15 of his points. he also had four rebounds and four steals.
"(Justin's) a tremendous player," said Pitts-Young. "We have a lot of chemistry. It's fun to play with him. He works hard all the time. He's a great player. Always there when we need him."
Talbot added 14 points and was unstoppable in the paint, grabbing 17 rebounds and blocking three shots.
"Matt had a great game," Zukowski said. "Him playing big every game helps out."
Alex and Angelo had four points apiece, Godbout added three and Smart and Volger (five boards) each finished with two.
Portland finished with a 40-26 advantage on the glass, with 13 of those coming on offense. The Bulldogs committed 19 turnovers, but made all seven free throw attempts.
For Scarborough, Manning led the way with 19 points, 15 of which came on 3-pointers. He also snared five rebounds. Hall added 15 points (and six boards), Terry had nine (along with a team-high eight rebounds), Wheeler eight and Russo two (to go with four steals).
The Red Storm gave the ball away 19 times and made 7-of-8 foul shots.
"We didn't score as much in the second half," said DiBiase. "We try to press after a made hoop. It became more of a halfcourt game. We couldn't get into the running game of the first half. In the first half, we missed five layups, which didn't help. We couldn't set up in our press, which is where we're most effective. Credit to Portland's defense. We've been averaging 68 points a game and they held us to 53. We have to take that next step. Not just playing well, but winning. I don't think you'd say watching this game that Portland is so much more talented.
"I thought it was a very good high school game. I thought we played well up until about four minutes to go when Portland made those four 3s. We did what we wanted to do. I told the kids, it's a process. The idea is getting over the hump and beating a team like Portland. They're ranked number one for a reason. All the coaches say they're the top team in the state. We were right there the whole way. I thought we did a good job on the glass. We handled their pressure pretty well. We matched their intensity. They made some big shots down the stretch. That's what we have to learn how to do. I was very interested to see how the kids would handle the intensity and talent level Portland has. We did a very nice job, but we didn't close and they did. We're disappointed we didn't win. We had a shot."
Scarborough (currently seventh in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) isn't taking part in a holiday tournament and will be back in action Saturday, Dec. 29, at Biddeford.
Look for this team to keep getting better and be the type of squad no one will want to face in February.
"This is a positive direction for us," said DiBiase. "We just have to keep working. We practice, then go right to Biddeford. Every game's big. We have to make shots, press, do all that stuff. We'll see what happens."
Portland (the top team in the Western A Heals) will take part in its annual holiday tournament at the Portland Expo (meeting Western B power Falmouth Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. and Penquis Valley Thursday at 11:30 a.m.), then plays a countable game Saturday, Dec. 29, when it welcomes Gorham.
The Bulldogs have been impressive so far, but they know they can be even better.
A scary thought.
"We have to keep going and keep working," Zukowski said. "We expect to win."