PORTLAND—There aren’t many teams over the years who have stymied the Portland boys’ basketball team, but for almost seven seasons, Thornton Academy had the Bulldogs’ number.
Not any more.
Portland’s run of frustration came to an end Monday night at the Portland Exposition Buildings.
In emphatic fashion.
For the first time in eight tries, Portland had an answer to the Golden Trojans, breaking open a close game with a second quarter surge and the Bulldogs ended all doubt early in the third period as they went on to a 73-36 win, their sixth without a loss this winter.
Senior standout Matt Talbot had 24 points, junior Steve Alex tallied 15 off the bench and senior Jayvon Pitts-Young added 12 as Portland dropped Thornton Academy to 2-3 on the year.
“TA came out doing what they do best, controlling the tempo, passing it around and taking good shots only, but our kids had a lot of poise,” said Portland coach Joe Russo. “We talked about it taking awhile. We matched them possession for possession and I was pleased with that.”
Thornton Academy opened with losses at Deering (77-55) and Cheverus (63-44), then downed visiting South Portland (65-49) and Sanford (65-47).
Last year, Portland lost to the Golden Trojans in Saco, 64-52, its seventh straight loss in the series. The Bulldogs last beat Thornton Academy, 69-56, Jan. 16, 2007, at the Expo.
Monday, Portland restored order.
The Golden Trojans kept things close in the first period, as the Bulldogs only led, 15-13, but Portland outscored Thornton Academy, 17-4, in the second to seize control.
The surge was keyed by Alex, who had 10 points in the first half after coming off the bench.
“I went as hard as I could off the bench,” Alex said. “I had not starting in my head and tried to do something. It’s a team game and you can’t just have two or three people. You have to have the whole team effort.”
“When we got the game going north and south, I thought Steve Alex, Jayvon and Matt did a great job playing 94 feet,” Russo said. “They got steals and got to the rim.”
If the second period was emphatic in favor of the Bulldogs, the third was a downright bludgeoning.
After senior Quinn Richardson-Newton made a pair of free throws to start the second half, Pitts-Young fed Talbot for a short bank shot. Senior Reuben Moses made a layup for the visitors, but Pitts-Young fed Talbot for a dunk, Pitts-Young hit a free throw, senior Justin Zukowski sank a 3 and Pitts-Young scored on a driving layup for a 42-20 lead.
After a Richardson-Newton made a leaner to end the 8-0 Bulldogs’ run, Portland got a fastbreak layup from Pitts-Young (set up by Zukowski), Talbot added a 3, Talbot made two foul shots, Zukowski made another 3, Talbot made a 3 and Talbot made a layup after a steal to make it 57-22 and essentially end all doubt. Two free throws from junior Kevin Barrett ended the third period.
Reserves (once again) saw the majority of the fourth quarter playing time.
After Thornton Academy got a leaner from Barrett, senior Dan Kane hit a leaner for the hosts. Talbot and Barrett then traded free throws, before Alex made a leaner, was fouled and sank the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play. After Moss converted his own three-point play, Alex made a layup for a 68-27 lead.
The Golden Trojans got a layup after a steal from senior Evan Wright, but sophomore Ben Griffin made a free throw for Portland. Senior Andrew Bullard made two foul shots for the visitors, but sophomore John Williams made a jumper for the Bulldogs. After sophomore Benjamin Lambert converted a three-point play, then made a layup after a steal, a putback from Bulldogs sophomore Joe Esposito brought the curtain down on the 73-36 ballgame.
Talbot led the way for Portland with 24 points, six steals, four blocked shots and four rebounds.
Alex had 15 points, Pitts-Young 12 (to go with seven assists and five rebounds), Zukowski six (to go with four steals and three boards), Moss five, Kane four, Esposito, Godbout and WIlliams two apiece and Griffin one.
“I thought tonight was one of the better games emotionally for the kids,” Russo said. “They were focused and relaxed and poised. Sometimes we win because we’re faster, stronger, bigger, but tonight we made good decisions. They weren’t rushing shots. They knew what they were doing.”
Barrett led Thornton Academy with 15 points.
Thornton Academy is idle until Jan. 3, when it goes to Scarborough.
Portland, meanwhile, will be plenty busy over the next several days. It plays defending Class B state champion Falmouth (Thursday at 8:30 p.m.) and a team from Zagreb, Croatia (Friday at 7 p.m.) in the Red Claws Holiday tournament (those games don’t count in the standings), then closes 2013 with a home game versus resurgent Cheverus Monday.
While the Bulldogs have been very impressive to date, they know they need to keep getting better.
“We’ve still got things to improve,” said Alex. “We have to be more focused for the whole 32 minutes and we’ll be successful.”
“We were 10-0 last year,” Russo said. “Cheverus is almost a mirror team to us. They’re playing well.”
Portland senior Justin Zukowski lines up a 3-pointer.
Portland senior Matt Talbot is fouled from behind by Thornton Academy senior Quinn Richardson-Newton on a second half dunk attempt. Talbot still wound up with a game-high 24 points.
Portland sophomore Amir Moss drives to the basket.
Portland senior Dan Kane splits Thornton Academy defenders en route to the hoop.
Portland senior Jayvon Pitts-Young drives while being guarded by Thornton Academy junior Kevin Barrett.
Portland junior Steve Alex soars to the basket for two of his 15 points during the Bulldogs’ 73-36 home win over Thornton Academy Monday night.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.