SP boys come to life in second half for another win
SOUTH PORTLAND—Coming off a nearly 40-point drubbing in a holiday tournament contest two days prior, the South Portland boys' basketball team was at its first crossroads of the season Friday evening when it hosted winless Massabesic.
The Red Riots started sluggishly and were down eight points early, but quickly returned to form.
Despite foul trouble which sidelined senior point guard Tanner Hyland for key stretches, South Portland got a superb effort from senior Ben Burkey and seized command.
The Red Riots went ahead for good in the second quarter, took a 28-24 lead to the half, then blew the game open in the fourth period, going on to a 62-41 victory to improve to 6-0, dropping the Mustangs to 0-6.
Burkey and Hyland shared top scoring honors with 15 points apiece, senior Conner MacVane and sophomore Jaren Muller also scored in double figures, senior Calvin Carr stepped into Hyland's point guard role without missing a beat and South Portland was steady on the glass and defensively as it got back on track.
"I wanted to see how the team would respond after we got waxed by Falmouth in the Expo tournament," said Red Riots coach Phil Conley. "I thought the kids came ready to play. The first half, we were a little off in our offense, but we picked it up on offense and defense in the second half. It's a good sign the way we responded. I kind of knew how we'd respond because I know what kind of senior leadership we have. They responded the right way. "
South Portland made a surprise run to the semifinals of last year's tournament before finally being ousted by Bonny Eagle, 54-39.
The Red Riots were confident entering this winter and opened with victories over visiting Windham (56-39), host Biddeford (68-43), visiting Westbrook (54-36), host Thornton Academy (56-54) and visiting Kennebunk (56-39). Wednesday, however, South Portland had no answers for Falmouth in a non-countable tournament game, falling, 73-35.
Massabesic, which went 1-17 last winter, lost to visiting Noble (68-64), visiting Bonny Eagle (68-41), visiting Deering (80-40), host Biddeford (49-37) and visiting Thornton Academy (83-31) in its first five games.
Last season, South Portland beat the Mustangs in Waterboro, 80-55.
This time, the Red Riots had a battle on their hands.
Massabesic set the tone when senior Casey Nava banked home a shot for the game's first points.
South Portland drew even when MacVane fed classmate Jack Tolan for a resounding dunk, but the visitors went back on top courtesy a jumper from freshman Bryson Murray.
The Red Riots tied the score, 4-4, on a reverse layup from Burkey, but the Mustangs staggered the hosts with an 8-0 run.
A hook shot from junior Cale Thornton started the surge. Juniors Noah Gerry and Caleb Campbell then drained consecutive 3s for a 12-4 lead.
Conley called timeout and the hosts began to respond.
Hyland set up MacVane for a layup and Carr made two free throws after a steal.
Massabesic got a point back when junior Tyler Bear made a foul shot, but a putback from Muller pulled South Portland within three, 13-10.
The Mustangs pushed their lead back to six on a free throw from Nava and a driving layup by Bear, but a leaner by Hyland in the waning seconds pulled the Red Riots to 16-12 after one quarter.
When Burkey hit a leaner and Hyland followed with a 3 early in the second stanza, South Portland had its first lead, 17-16.
Massabesic went back on top for the final time on a left-handed leaner from Murray, but a putback from MacVane gave the Red Riots the lead for good, 19-18.
After a Hyland fadeaway jumper was countered by two Nava foul shots, Hyland set up Tolan for a layup, MacVane sank a free throw and Burkey scored on a putback for a 26-20 advantage.
"We got used to their defense and adjusted," said Burkey. "I didn't feel like the intensity changed that much, just how we played strategically. The energy was there and I went to the boards well which led to second chance opportunities."
The plucky Mustangs again responded as Thornton scored on a putback, then did it again, but in the final minute, Burkey scored on a driving layup to give South Portland a 28-24 edge at the break.
Despite their slow start, the Red Riots had forced 10 Massabesic turnovers in the first half and only committed a pair of their own.
South Portland gained a little separation in the third quarter when Burkey hit a baseline jumper and Carr added a 3 to make it 33-24, but with 6:27 to go, Hyland was whistled for his fourth foul.
The Mustangs took advantage as Nava scored on a reverse layup and Nava made a layup after a steal to cut the deficit to five, but Burkey scored on a putback.
A bank shot from Thornton pulled Massabesic back to 35-30, but Muller hit a jumper, then sank a leaner to push the lead back to nine. A late 3 from Gerry, however, kept the Mustangs very much within striking distance heading for the fourth, down just six points, 39-33.
In the fourth, South Portland ended all doubt.
Just 18 seconds in, Tolan was fouled after an offensive rebound and made a free throw. Burkey then scored on a putback while being fouled and hit the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play.
With 6:47 to go, Gerry sank a 3 to get Massabesic within seven, 43-36, but the bottom was about to fall out on the visitors.
Twelve seconds later, Hyland found MacVane with a pretty pass, MacVane made a layup and was fouled. Compounding matters for the Mustangs, both Gerry and coach Ramone Jones were called for technical fouls and after MacVane converted his three-point play, Hyland, who had returned for the start of the fourth quarter, sank all four of his technical free throws to give South Portland a seven-point possession and a 50-36 bulge.
Hyland added two more foul shots and with 5:16 to go, MacVane did the same for a 54-36 lead.
A runner from Bear gave Massabesic a little hope, but it was immediately dashed as Muller made a layup, Hyland made a layup after a steal and Muller hit a baseline jumper for a 60-38 advantage.
Then, with 2:16 to go, Jones was called for a second technical and was ejected from the game. Muller made a technical, then added a free throw for South Portland's final points.
Down the stretch, the Mustangs got a foul shot from Murray and a layup from Nava to account for the 62-41 final score.
"It wasn't a pretty win tonight by any means, but we'll take a win," Conley said. "Sometimes good teams win ugly and a win is a win. I thought we clamped down defensively in the second half and they didn't really get any open looks."
Burkey finished with 15 points, eight boards and two steals.
"I thought Ben Burkey really stepped up tonight," Conley said. "This is the first time he played well offensively in the paint. That's a positive to take out of the game."
Hyland also had 15 points to go with five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Muller added 12 points, MacVane had 10 (to go with six boards) and Carr and Tolan (six rebounds and four blocks) had five apiece.
Carr turned heads with his point guard play with Hyland sidelined.
"When we lost Tanner, Calvin Carr had to shift to the point," Conley said. "He did a marvelous job running the offense. He got us good looks in the motion offense. That's a credit to Calvin. Every day this year, he's come to play, regardless of the position, 4, 3, 2 or 1. The only position he hasn't played is the 5. He does whatever it takes to helps the team."
South Portland had a 37-24 advantage on the glass, only turned the ball over six times (a feat made even more impressive by the lengthy absence of its point guard) and sank 16-of-27 foul shots.
Massabesic was led by 11 points from Nava. Gerry had nine points, Thornton eight (to go with a team-high eight boards), Bear and Murray five each and Campbell three. The Mustangs committed 17 turnovers and were 5-of-9 from the charity stripe.
South Portland's schedule now turns daunting.
The Red Riots are back in action Wednesday at home versus dangerous Scarborough, which is now coached by longtime South Portland coach Tony DiBiase. South Portland still has two games apiece remaining against Cheverus, Portland and defending state champion Deering, as well as a game with Bonny Eagle.
This team has the potential to be a playoff favorite, but remains a work in progress.
"The proving ground starts against Scarborough," said Burkey. "With good practices, we'll clean up some things and we'll be good."
"We need to keep working like we have," Conley said. "We looked at our schedule and wanted to be 6-0 going into the second half of the season. We haven't looked past any teams. Every team in the SMAA brings their 'A' game. We'll take the same one game at a time approach in the second half. It's a marathon, not a sprint. I'm looking forward to the second half and I know the guys are. We'll go right at it. This team has been what we expected. I knew we'd have physically tough kids. I know the seniors want to win badly. I think their leadership so far has been for the most part what we want."