PORTLAND — The Westbrook Blue Blazes served up a big helping of Dominic Borelli Friday night, riding a 27-point, 12-rebound effort from the 6-foot-7-inch center to a 62-48 win over the Portland Bulldogs at the Portland Exposition Building.
Borelli, a junior, scored 20 points in first half, including seven during the Blue Blazes’ 21-point second quarter that opened a comfortable 37-23 advantage at the half.
Portland’s 6-foot-7-inch answer to Borelli, senior Ed Bogdanovich, spent considerable time on the bench in serious foul trouble, allowing Westbrook to dominate the backboards and convert their second chance opportunities into easy points in the paint.
Borelli and his 6-foot-6-inch sidekick, junior forward Nick Jobin (14 points), combined for a huge percentage of the Blue Blazes scoring, a lopsided 41 of the team’s 62 points.
“Westbrook played great,” said Portland coach Joe Russo. “Borelli played great tonight. He looked like one of the top players in the league against us. This is not what I expected. We expected to beat Westbrook. Not because they’re not a good team, but I guess I thought we were better than we are. This game comes down to rebounding when it’s all said and done. They killed us on second shots.”
Bogdanovich (13 points) started the game on fire, dropping eight points to lead the Bulldogs to an 11-9 lead with 2:26 left in the first quarter when disaster struck.
After picking up a foul on the first possession of the game, Bogdanovich later fouled Jobin on a made basket and was forced to the bench for the remainder of the first quarter and the first three minutes of the second.
Jobin’s three-point play on the foul tied the game at 11-11, and by the time Bogdanovich returned with five minutes left in the second, the Blue Blazes had built a 23-14 point lead that swelled to 28-14 before the Bulldogs could stop the game-turning 20-3 drought.
The Bulldogs settled for the outside shot with Bogdanovich out, and they didn’t fare very well, particularly in the first half when they hit on just two of 11 attempts from downtown. Portland shot 36 percent from the field (20 for 55), but just 27 percent from behind the 3-point arc.
With Bogdanovich back on the floor in the second quarter, the Bulldogs traded baskets the rest of the way. But with two seconds left in the half, Bogdanovich picked up a cheap foul 90-feet away from the basket and went to the half with three fouls and his team trailing 37-23.
“I told Bogdanovich that third foul was big,” said Russo. “Unfortunately we rely on him to score all our points, get all our rebounds. It was a stupid foul, but it was my fault. It was stupid because I left him in there.”
Bogdanovich would miss almost the entire third quarter, leaving Portland without its best player while trying to chip away at a 14-point halftime deficit. The Bulldogs trimmed two points off the lead by pulling within 12, 48-36 after the third.
Sophomore guard James Ek led the way with a 3-pointer and a breakaway layup that Jobin pinned from behind for a goaltending violation. Junior guard Joe Zukowski (nine points) added four points and senior center Joe Violette and junior guard Koang Thok added baskets in the third.
The Bulldogs ran off eight straight points to start the fourth, using a tough shot from behind the hoop and a deep 3-pointer from Thok (12 points) to pull within nine at 48-39 with 5:29 left to play.
But that’s as close as Portland got, as the Blue Blazes got a wide open bucket on the break, a three-point play by Borelli, and a layup by Jobin to break open a 14-point lead with just over two minutes left in the game to seal the win.
“Tonight I learned that we are what we are,” says Russo. “We don’t take good shots. They played a simple zone and we didn’t move the ball around on offense. Zones only work against teams that don’t shoot well. Like I said, we are what we are, which is apparently 14-points not as good as Westbrook. If the chips fall our way we might surprise someone. But we’re not transformers either.”
Portland rebounded at plucky Scarborough Saturday, holding on for a 63-53 victory behind 23 points from Thok and 15 points and 15 rebounds from Bogdanovich.
“We needed to bounce back,” said Russo. “A win’s a win, so we’re happy to get out of here with a win. Scarborough fought until the end. They never gave up.”
Things don’t get any easier for the Bulldogs down the stretch as they jockey for top playoff positioning. Portland, 11-3 and tied for Deering for fifth in the latest Western A Heals, goes to South Portland Tuesday (too late for this edition), then closes the year with home games against Deering Friday, Cheverus Tuesday and South Portland Feb. 6.
“This is an awesome stretch,” Russo said. “I’m not worried. I think we’re like the (collegiate) Big East. It doesn’t matter what our seed is, we’ll have to play someone tough in the tournament. Cheverus is a notch above, but after Cheverus, it doesn’t really matter. Pick your poison. These four games, the kids need to enjoy. It’ll be fun.”