Portland girls rally for much-needed win over Noble

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Portland sophomore Amanda Kabantu knocks down a go-ahead 3-pointer late in the Bulldogs’ 51-50 win over Noble Saturday.

BOX SCORE

Portland 51 Noble 50

N- 14 10 14 12- 50
P- 11 8 13 19- 51

N- Kelly 5-4-15, Exel 6-0-12, Howard 5-1-11, Fleming 1-2-4, Lessard 1-0-3, Morrill 1-0-3, Hamel 1-0-2

P- A. Kabantu 5-0-12, Joyce 6-0-12, Yugu 3-1-9, D. Kabantu 3-0-6, Kelly 2-0-5, Motema 1-2-4, Wakati 1-0-3

3-pointers:
N (3) Kelly, Lessard, Morrill 1
P (6) A Kabantu, Yugu 2, Kelly, Wakati 1

Turnovers:
N- 11
P-  9

Free throws
N: 7-13
P:  3-6

PORTLAND—When you’re hungry for a win, you’ll take one by any means necessary.

Portland’s girls’ basketball team trailed visiting Noble for most of Saturday afternoon’s contest at the Portland Exposition Building, but with the game on the line, the Bulldogs, led by sophomore Amanda Kabantu, did just enough to prevail.

Portland fell behind early, 4-0, rallied to tie it at 4-4, 6-6, 8-8 and 11-11, but just before the horn, junior Kelsey Lessard made a 3-pointer for a 14-11 Knights’ advantage.

In the second period, Noble went up by as many as seven points before the Bulldogs cut the deficit to 24-19 at the break.

In the third quarter, the Knights threatened to run away with it, as a putback from freshman Olivia Howard capped an 8-0 run and spelled a 37-27 lead, but Portland hung tough and pulled within six points, 38-32, heading for the final stanza.

Where the Bulldogs saved their best for last.

Kabantu hadn’t scored entering the fourth quarter, but she made back-to-back hoops to give Portland its first lead, 46-45, with 4:07 to go.

Noble went back on top on a 3-pointer from junior Raegan Kelly, but Kabantu hit a 3 of her own for a 49-48 lead with 2:39 on the clock.

The Knights again regained the lead on two Kelly free throws, but with 1:08 to go, Kabantu rattled home a jumper to put the Bulldogs ahead for good,

Noble had two good looks late to win it, but couldn’t get the shots to drop and Portland held on to prevail, 51-50.

Kabantu and senior Jill Joyce led the way with 12 points apiece as the Bulldogs snapped a four-game skid, improved to 5-6 and in the process, dropped the Knights to 5-5.

“It’s a tremendous win,” said Portland coach Gerry Corcoran. “It’s huge. We needed a win. Period. Injuries have been killing us and we weren’t playing good basketball. Our timing and conditioning were off. The good news is we fought back against a good team.” 

Hard work pays off

Noble and Portland have each been up-and-down in a very balanced Class AA this winter.

The Bulldogs started fast, winning four of their first six games. Portland started by beating visiting Thornton Academy, 48-29, and after falling at Windham (55-46) and at home to Oxford Hills (40-38), the Bulldogs downed host Massabesic (39-33), visiting Bangor (54-52, in overtime) and visiting Deering (39-37, in overtime). After a 49-43 home loss to defending Class AA South champion Gorham, Portland fell at defending Class AA state champion Edward Little (43-35), at home to Sanford (45-40) and at powerhouse South Portland Thursday (57-35).

Noble started with a 52-23 victory at Westbrook. After a 39-38 home loss to Thornton Academy, the Knights fell at home to Gorham (69-46) and at Windham (56-43). After downing visiting Bonny Eagle (61-47), Noble defeated host Massabesic (53-50). After a 48-37 setback at Scarborough, the Knights enjoyed wins over visiting Lewiston (55-41) and host Marshwood (51-47).

Last year, Portland won, 59-37, at North Berwick.

Saturday, Noble sought its first win over the Bulldogs since Jan. 26, 2016 (52-48), but Portland saved its best for last.

Two free throws from Knights junior Amy Fleming opened the scoring 19 seconds in and sophomore Tori Exel added a putback for quick 4-0 lead.

Portland got on the board with 5:51 remaining in the first quarter, as sophomore Gemima Motema made two free throws and a Joyce layup tied the score.

A Fleming layup after a steal was countered by a Motema leaner.

After Exel hit a jump shot for the visitors, Joyce tied the game again with a putback.

After Exel scored on a putback and Howard hit a free throw, a 3-pointer from sophomore Mia Kelly forged another tie, 11-11, but just before the buzzer, Lessard’s 3-ball gave Noble a three-point advantage after eight minutes.

Lessard set up Kelley for a layup and Exel scored on a putback to open the second quarter, but junior Davina Kabantu hit a jump shot and with 3:56 remaining in the half, freshman Elizabeth Yugu made a 3-pointer while being fouled and added the free throw for the rare four-point play to cut the deficit to one.

After junior Liz Hamel countered with a layup, Kelly made successive layups to seemingly put the Knights in good shape heading into the half, but Kelly’s driving layup pulled Portland within 24-19 at the break.

Exel’s eight points led all scorers, while Kelly paced the Bulldogs with five.

The intensity picked up in the third period, as Noble opened up a momentary double-digit lead before the Bulldogs answered.

A Joyce layup started the second half scoring, but Howard countered with a layup and senior Lexi Morrill drained a 3 for a 29-21 Knights’ advantage.

Portland responded and drew within two, as Joyce hit a short jumper, Joyce fed Davina Kabantu for a layup and Davina Kabantu scored on a putback.

Noble then went on a run, as Howard hit a jumper, made another jumper, then Howard made a layup before scoring on a putback to cap a personal 8-0 run and make the score 37-27 with 3:02 remaining in the frame.

A Yugu jumper ended the surge and after Kelly made a free throw for the visitors, a 3-ball from freshman Lina Wakati pulled the Bulldogs within 38-32 after three quarters.

The final stanza saw the lead change hands five times.

Joyce started the frame with a putback, but Exel countered with a jumper to make it 40-34.

Amanda Kabantu then scored her first points, draining a 3 to make it a one-possession game.

Kelley countered with a putback, but after a Davina Kabantu steal, Joyce made a layup to pull Portland within 42-39.

Exel made a jumper for Noble, but Yugu made another 3 to cut the deficit to two.

After Kelly made a free throw, Amanda Kabantu scored on a putback and with 4:07 to play, Kabantu’s jumper gave Portland the lead for the first time, 46-45.

The Knights went back ahead 21 seconds later on Kelly’s 3, but Amanda Kabantu wouldn’t be outdone, draining a 3 from the top of the key with 2:39 remaining for a 49-48 Bulldogs’ advantage.

Kelly again answered for Noble, as she made two free throws with 2:08 left, but that set the stage for one last bit of Amanda Kabantu heroics.

With 1:08 to go, Kabantu got the ball in the corner and launched a jumper that hit the rim, but eventually found its way into the basket for a 51-50 lead.

“To be honest, when I took the shot, I didn’t think it was a great shot, but I thought it was going in,” Kabantu said.

“We’re trying to develop Amanda for the next level,” Corcoran said. “She’s a big-time player at big-time moments.” 

After Howard missed at the other end, Amanda Kabantu got the rebound and with the Knights having just one team foul, they had to commit six quickly to finally send Kabantu to the line for a one-and-one with 12 seconds left.

Kabantu missed the front end and Noble had one final chance, but the Knights couldn’t convert a good look.

Amanda Kabantu got the rebound, but she was tied up and the possession arrow went to the Knights, giving the one final look.

It was a good one, as Lessard went up for a layup in traffic, but the ball rolled off the rim and in the ensuing scrum, the clock ran out and Portland was able to celebrate its 51-50 victory.

“It was an exciting game,” said Amanda Kabantu. “We felt confident when we were behind. We just weren’t making good decisions. We trust each other and that’s why we were successful as a team.” 

“We’ve been snakebitten in several games, but for some reason, the basketball Gods were on our side today,” Corcoran said.

“We did a good job spreading the floor and finding the open person. We just talked about playing intelligent. We’re trying to uncomplicate things and just get more movement. South Portland taught us a great lesson the other night of off-the-ball movement and we did it tonight and it paid off.”

Amanda Kabantu finished with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds and Joyce also finished in double-digits with 12 points, adding nine rebounds and two blocked shots.

Yugu had nine points, Davina Kabantu finished with six (to go with four assists and four rebounds), Kelly had five, Motema four (to go with six boards and two blocks) and Wakati three.

The Bulldogs had a 36-35 advantage on the boards, only turned the ball over nine times and made 3 of 6 free throws.

Noble was led by Kelly, who had a game-high 15 points, as well as eight rebounds.

Exel had 12 points and seven boards, Howard finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, Fleming had four points, five rebounds and three blocks, Lessard and Morrill each added three points and Hamel finished with two.

The Knights made just 7 of 13 free throws and turned the ball over 11 times.

Start of something big?

Noble hopes to bounce back Tuesday when St. Dom’s visits. After hosting Kennebunk Thursday, the Knights are at South Portland Jan. 21.

Portland looks to even its record Tuesday at Lewiston. The Bulldogs visit Cheverus Friday.

“We want to start games better,” Amanda Kabantu said. “We know we can beat anybody. We just have to play more consistent.”

“We’re getting back to basics and keeping things simple,” Corcoran said. “We’re acting like it’s preseason again. I’m excited about what we can do.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.