Portland holds off SP in season-opening thriller

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South Portland senior Ansel Stilley and Portland sophomore Trey Bellew battle for a rebound during the teams’ clash Friday night. As they did in the state final back in February, the Bulldogs held off the Red Riots in a thriller, 61-54.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Portland 61 South Portland 54

P- 14 16 13 18- 61
SP- 11 12 13 18- 54

P- Moss 8-4-21, Foley 4-1-10, Bellew 4-0-9, Fonseca 3-1-8, Lyall 2-4-8, Yugu 2-1-5

SP- Malone 8-0-22, Bol 6-2-14, Oreste 3-0-6, White 3-0-6, Stilley 1-2-4, Hasson 1-0-2

3-pointers:
P (4) Bellew, Foley, Fonseca, Moss 1
SP (6) Malone 6

Turnovers:
P- 15
SP- 14

Free throws
P: 11-15
SP 4-10

SOUTH PORTLAND—While it lacked the passion and intensity of the teams’ unforgettable previous meeting, Friday’s regular season opener between state champion Portland and valiant runner-up South Portland at Beal Gymnasium was still pretty darn exciting.

And the best is still to come for both teams.

The Bulldogs weren’t the heavy favorite this time and only 32 minutes were needed, not 40, but both squads showed why they should be in the hunt for a title this winter and could perhaps square off on the ultimate stage yet again.

In front a near-capacity crowd, the Red Riots came out hot, thanks to the sharpshooting of junior Noah Malone, but Portland junior standout Terion Moss matched him and sparked a 10-0 run that spanned the end of the first quarter and the start of the second for a 19-11 lead.

The Bulldogs led, 30-23, at halftime, but South Portland pulled within one in the third period and when Moss picked up his fourth foul with 3:01 to go in the frame, the Red Riots were poised to take the lead, but Portland demonstrated that it has many weapons it can turn to, as sophomore Pedro Fonseca hit a big 3-pointer and juniors Manny Yugu and Griffin Foley both converted old-fashioned three-point plays to restore a seven-point cushion, 43-36, heading for the final stanza.

There, South Portland did manage to go ahead, 52-51, on a jump shot from senior DeAndre White, but Bulldogs sophomore Trey Bellew countered with a putback.

With 1:52 to play, Red Riots senior Moses Oreste made a layup to give the Red Riots the lead again, but 40 seconds later, Yugu hit a leaner while being fouled and Portland was on top to stay.

Down the stretch, South Portland committed two costly turnovers, Bulldogs senior Charlie Lyall sank two clutch free throws and Moss added four more to slam the door as Portland held on to prevail, 61-54.

Moss led the Bulldogs with 21 points, which helped overcome 22 from the sizzling Malone, as Portland extended its win streak to 13 games and captured its season opener for the sixth straight year.

“It’s a big win for us,” said longtime Bulldogs coach Joe Russo, who won his 383rd game with the program. “(South Portland’s) one of the best teams in the South. They’ll win a lot of games. They’re very good and versatile. We want to win early and win often. This takes a little pressure off.”

You, again

The ancient rivals squared off three times in 2015-16 and the first two were relatively run-of-the-mill affairs when juxtaposed against the third. In the season opener last December, the host Bulldogs prevailed, 76-57. Then, in the penultimate game of the regular season, Portland romped at South Portland, 68-38.

To no one’s surprise, the Bulldogs advanced to the state final where, to the shock of just about everyone outside the city of South Portland, the Red Riots awaited and this time, the game was close.

So close in fact that 32 minutes weren’t enough to decide a winner, nor were 36.

The contest, one of the most memorable state finals in Maine annals, needed double overtime before Portland escaped by the skin of its teeth, 52-50.

The Bulldogs lost standouts Joe Esposito and Amir Moss to graduation, but return ample firepower for them to be considered the favorite again.

South Portland, meanwhile, also was hard-hit by graduation, but the Red Riots enter the new season feeling they’re starting from a stronger place from a year ago and that they’ll save their best for last again.

Friday, Portland did just enough to make it five in a row over its ancient rival and take a 122-101 all-time lead in a series which dates to the 1909-10 season (see sidebar, below).

South Portland struck first, 16 seconds in, when senior Ansel Stilley knocked down a jump shot.

Moss then made his presence felt, scoring his team’s first basket of the season on a layup, then tipping home his own miss for a 4-2 lead.

After Malone scored his first basket, on a layup after a steal, White scored on a putback, but a pullup jumper from Moss tied the score, 6-6, midway through the first quarter.

The Red Riots went back on top on a pair of Stilley free throws, but Bellew knocked down a 3 from the corner for a 9-8 Bulldogs lead.

With 2:45 to go in the first, Malone made his first 3, but South Portland wouldn’t score again for 4 minutes, 22 seconds and Portland erupted for 10 straight points to take the lead.

A Moss jumper tied the score, then with 56.8 seconds left in the frame, Moss went up-and-under before finishing the layup. A Lyall free throw gave the Bulldogs a 14-11 advantage after one exciting quarter.

Early in the second, Foley set up Fonseca for a layup and Moss buried a 3 and just like that, Portland led, 19-11, but a layup from Oreste ended the run.

After Moss scored with the left hand to extend the lead back to eight, South Portland senior Ruay Bol scored his first points, on a jump shot, but Lyall answered with a layup.

Bol hit a leaner off the glass, but Fonseca hit a pullup jump shot and with 2:33 to go before halftime, after a Fonseca steal, Fonseca set up Foley for a layup and the Bulldogs’ biggest lead of the game, 27-17.

Malone then began to heat up, burying a 3 from well behind the stripe. Stilley then set up junior Riley Hasson for a layup and Bol made one free throw to cut the deficit to four, but just before the half, Foley made a 3 and Portland was up, 30-23, at the break.

Moss scored 15 first half points, but did pick up two fouls. Malone led the Red Riots with eight points.

Things got very interesting in the third quarter.

A driving layup from Bol got things started and Malone followed with another deep 3 to cut the lead to just two points, but Foley scored on a runner and Lyall sank a pretty left-handed hook shot for a 34-28 advantage.

Malone came right back with another deep 3, then scored on a leaner from the baseline to make it 34-33.

South Portland then got the break it was hoping for, as with 3:01 showing, Moss drove and collided with a defender and was whistled for a charge, his fourth foul, sending him to the bench.

The Red Riots had all the momentum and an apparent big advantage with Moss sidelined, but some unheralded Bulldogs kept their team on top.

First, Fonseca, Moss’ replacement at point guard, came up huge with a clutch 3 to calm things down.

“Pedro is a jack of all trades,” Russo said. “He played all four spots tonight. He did a really nice job bailing Terion out when he had to sit. Griff and Manny on the wing started being more assertive, so Pedro didn’t have to run the offense. He just had to get upcourt and get rid of the ball. He performed.”

After Bol missed two free throws, Yugu drove for a layup, was fouled in the process and sank the free throw to make it 40-33.

“It was a next-man-up mindset,” Yugu said. “Obviously Terion is a big part of our offense. I wasn’t trying to fill his shoes. As the 2 guard, I was just trying to handle the ball a little bit more and stay aggressive.”

Malone countered with yet another 3, but with 59.9 seconds to go in the frame, Foley took a pass from Lyall, made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw to restore the seven-point advantage, 43-36, heading for the fourth period.

There, Portland did enough to hold on.

After Bol got things started with a three-point play, Foley answered with a driving layup to make it 45-39.

Bol then made a layup and White hit a leaner, but with 5:22 to go, Lyall made one of two free throws. Even better for the Bulldogs, Moss returned to the court.

A putback from Oreste again pulled South Portland within a point, but Moss drove for a layup and with 3:55 remaining, Bellew’s putback gave Portland a 50-45 advantage.

Bol got two points back with a jumper, but Fonseca made a free throw.

The Red Riots then finally caught up and went ahead.

After Malone’s final 3, White made a nice spin move to elude a defender, then sank a short jumper with 2:26 to go, giving South Portland a 52-51 lead, its first since 11-9.

It lasted all of 15 seconds, as Bellew’s putback put the Bulldogs back on top.

With 1:52 remaining, Bol drove, drew the defense, then passed to Oreste, who made an easy layup and the Red Riots clung to a 54-53 advantage, which wouldn’t last.

Yugu, who gained more confidence by the minute, drove into the lane and hit a leaner while being fouled with 1:12 to go. He missed the ensuing free throw, but Portland was ahead to stay, 55-54.

“I heard Coach yell, ‘Go’ because there was a mismatch and I just shot and it went in,” Yugu said. “In my mind, I took it on myself. I wanted to make the play and I made it. Last year, I played in a couple big games. Learning from Amir and watching him making big plays makes it so much easier for me now because I know what to do.”

South Portland then shot itself in the foot with an over-and-back transgression, giving the Bulldogs the ball.

Foley missed a shot, but on the rebound, Bellew and Hasson both got possession and the arrow pointed Portland’s way.

After milking some time, Lyall was fouled with 30.3 seconds to play.

Lyall went to the line and got his first attempt to rattle in. The second was nothing but net and the lead was up to three, 57-54.

“My heart was beating pretty fast,” Lyall said. “Traditionally, I shoot my best free throw percentage when I have to make them.”

“Every free throw is important,” Russo said. “Charlie had to focus. He played all 32 minutes tonight.”

Bol drove for a layup which could have pulled his team within a point, but it just rolled off the rim and Moss snared the rebound and was fouled with 20.6 seconds remaining. Moss hit both free throws to make it a two-possession game.

The Red Riots then turned the ball over again, on a travel, and with 11.7 seconds to go, Moss made two more free throws to clinch it.

South Portland couldn’t get any closer and Portland was able to celebrate its 61-54 triumph.

“I don’t know how many more games like this my heart can take,” Lyall said. “This rivalry is over 100 years old. It’s always an interesting game. It’s doesn’t matter the year or how good the teams are. The best thing about this win is that we showed heart. It wasn’t a clean game, or a pretty game, but we put it in the win column. It’s a good confidence-builder. We have a lot of guys who didn’t play a lot of significant varsity minutes last year.”

It wasn’t our best defensive night, which is great, because we learned and still got a win out of it,” Yugu said.

“(South Portland) had the incentive,” Russo added. “It was a big game out of the gate. We got down at the end and everybody had to step up and it was nice to see that. The guys don’t give up. They played tremendous. We showed heart and soul. We expected tonight to be interesting. They play a lot of zone. We threw everything at them, but they kept coming. Noah couldn’t miss.”

Despite his limited time on the floor, Moss led the Bulldogs with 21 points. He also grabbed seven rebounds. Foley had 10 points, Bellew nine (to go with six boards and a blocked shot), Fonseca eight (as well as six rebounds, two assists and a steal), Lyall eight (along with eight boards) and Yugu five.

“Manny’s nursing a sore hand and I wasn’t going to start him,” Russo said. (Senior) Clay Hardy was going to start, but he had his wisdom teeth out.”

Portland enjoyed a 32-28 rebounding advantage, overcame 15 turnovers and made 11 of 15 free throws.

For South Portland, Malone, thanks in large part to his six 3-pointers, led the way with 22 points. He also had five rebounds and a pair of steals.

“Noah’s maturing at a rapid rate as a person,” Red Riots coach Kevin Millington said. “He was as good as anybody we had last year. He had some basketball things to figure out and he has. I think he’s one of the best players in the league. He has range. He’s strong and he can finish.”

Bol added 14 points and four boards, Oreste had six points and six rebounds, White six points and a pair of assists, Stilley four points and four rebounds and Hasson two points, four boards, three assists and two steals.

The Red Riots committed 14 turnovers and made just 4 of 10 foul shots.

“I thought we probably played better than they did last time, but tonight, they played a lot better than we did,” Millington lamented. “We left a lot of points out there. A lot of free throws and layups. They certainly make you rush and make you shoot quicker than other teams do, but we have to convert those. They were down a really great player, but it’s still not easy. The five guys out there defensively were still very good. The thing about Portland people don’t talk about enough is that they’re so good defensively. They make you start your offense out further. That disrupted our rhythm.

“I think the only team that believes they can beat Portland is us. The kids all know each other and we go into the game thinking we’re as good as they are. They have the best coach in the state, the best guard in the state. We have to play well to beat them. They’re fun games, but they don’t really mean much. They’re in the North, we’re in the South. We’ll both probably securely make the playoffs.”

Long road ahead

The teams will meet a second time Feb. 6 in Portland, but both squads have plenty of heavy lifting to do first, starting next week.

South Portland plays its first road game Tuesday, at Westbrook.

Portland plays at the Expo for the first time Tuesday when Bonny Eagle pays a visit.

“We have to play better defense,” Yugu said. “Defense wins games. That’s our motto. We have to build from what we had last year and learn our roles.”

“We don’t have much practice time and it’s not going to get any easier,” Russo said.

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

South Portland junior Riley Hasson goes up for a shot.

Portland junior Manny Yugu protects the ball while South Portland senior Deandre White defends. Yugu had the go-ahead basket with 1:12 remaining.

Portland senior Charlie Lyall leans in for a shot.

Portland junior Terion Moss tries to get past South Portland senior Ruay Bol.

South Portland junior Noah Malone shoots over Portland junior Manny Yugu. Malone had a game-high 22 points, including six 3-pointers.

South Portland senior Moses Oreste drives to the basket.

Portland junior Griffin Foley shoots over South Portland junior Noah Malone.

Recent Portland-South Portland results

2015-16
@ Portland 75 South Portland 56
Portland 68 @ South Portland 38
Class AA Final
Portland 52 South Portland 50 (2 OT) 

2014-15
@ Portland 45 South Portland 43
@ South Portland 20 Portland 16 (OT)

2013-14
Portland 79 @ South Portland 49
@ Portland 64 South Portland 42 

2012-13
@ Portland 63 South Portland 47
@ South Portland 52 Portland 42
Western A semifinals
South Portland 49 Portland 41

2011-12
Portland 61 @ South Portland 57
@ Portland 52 South Portland 48
Western A quarterfinals
South Portland 39 Portland 37

2010-11
@ Portland 80 South Portland 71 (3 OT)
Portland 59 @ South Portland 54
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 69 South Portland 45

2009-10 
Portland 56 @ South Portland 49
@ Portland 49 South Portland 48

2008-09
@ South Portland 57 Portland 49
South Portland 56 @ Portland 51
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 72 South Portland 49

2007-08
@ Portland 65 South Portland 50
@ South Portland 67 Portland 57

2006-07
Portland 79 @ South Portland 76
@ Portland 53 South Portland 51

2005-06
Portland 75 @ South Portland 63
@ Portland 87 Portland 60

2004-05
@ Portland 71 South Portland 53
Portland 78 @ South Portland 58
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 58 South Portland 51

2003-04
Portland 98 @ South Portland 44
@ Portland 66 South Portland 29

2002-03
Portland 62 @ South Portland 36
@ Portland 59 South Portland 40

2001-02
@ Portland 65 South Portland 61
Portland 67 @ South Portland 52

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