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Portland senior Amir Moss goes up over Deering junior Raffaele Salamone (44) and senior Andrew Lobor for two of his game-high 24 points during the Bulldogs’ 61-51 victory Thursday night.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
P- 18 18 11 14- 61
D- 8 14 15 14- 51
P- A. Moss 11-1-24, Foley 4-1-12, T. Moss 5-1-11, Esposito 2-0-6, Lyall 1-4-6, Griffin 1-0-2
D- Lobor 7-3-17, Salamone 3-4-10, Williams 3-4-10, White 3-0-8, Dutton 2-0-4, Chikuta 1-0-2
P (6) Foley 3, Esposito 2, A. Moss 1
D (2) White 2
PORTLAND—It isn’t often that a two-time defending regional champion, a team that had won 50 of 54 games, can convince itself it’s an underdog and parlay that into a triumphant performance in a hostile gym, but that’s exactly what Portland’s boys’ basketball team pulled off Thursday night at ancient rival Deering.
In the first of two (likely three) meetings this season, in front of the biggest crowd at Deering in memory, the Bulldogs raced to an early lead behind four 3-pointers in the first quarter to go ahead, 18-8.
Senior Amir Moss, who has made a career out of his stymieing the Rams in big games, helped Portland open up a 36-22 lead at halftime, thanks to 13 points and 10 rebounds in the first 16 minutes.
Deering tried its best to rally in the second half, but Portland went ahead by as many as 18 points, 47-29, on a Moss layup midway through the third period.
The Rams battled back within six on two occasions in the fourth quarter, but thanks to the offensive rebounding and free throw shooting acumen of junior Charlie Lyall, the Bulldogs put the game away and prevailed, 61-51.
Portland got a double-double (24 points, 13 rebounds) from Moss, 12 points from Foley and 11 points from sophomore Terion Moss as it improved to 10-1, beat Deering for the seventh straight time and handed the Rams their first setback in 11 outings this winter in the process.
“We talked about how there was no pressure on us tonight,” said longtime Bulldogs coach Joe Russo, who won his 372nd game with the program and improved to 34-22 vs. Deering. “I’m happy both teams got to enjoy the atmosphere. Since both programs are doing well, the people came out. It feels great to win this game. It was nice to see the guys enjoy this game and what they earned.”
Portland and Deering first squared off on the hardwood on Dec. 30, 1911, when the Philadelphia Athletics were the reigning World Series champion (those A’s were led by Frank “Home Run” Baker, who hit 11 home runs that season), a new car cost $2,150, the maximum speed limit to drive that car was 10 miles per hour, the average hourly wage was .22 cents and the president of the United States was the rotund William Howard Taft.
Over the years, the Bulldogs’ advantage in the series has been almost as large as our 27th president.
Entering play Thursday, Portland had won 142 of 220 all-time meetings, including each of the past six, and held a 22-7 advantage over the past dozen years (see sidebar).
As they did in 2013-14, the Bulldogs won all three games a year ago: 65-62 in a thriller at the Expo, 66-44 at Deering and 59-57 in an unforgettable Western A semifinal, thanks to a three-point play from Amir Moss in the waning seconds.
So far this winter, both teams have been dominant and there’s ample reasons to believe that a regional final showdown might be in store a little over a month from now.
Portland started by downing visiting South Portland (75-56), then defeated host Bonny Eagle (75-49), Oxford Hills (74-57) and Lewiston (85-39), visiting Edward Little (82-64), Noble (100-33) and Bangor (68-39) and host Scarborough (73-38), before finally meeting its match Friday in a 58-55 home loss to Gorham. The Bulldogs got back on track Tuesday with a 72-42 home win over Sanford.
Deering opened by downing visiting Windham, 82-60. After an emphatic 105-33 win at Noble, the Rams won at Edward Little (76-62), at home over Sanford (67-38), at Bangor (66-60), at home over Lewiston (69-36), at Gorham (56-51), at home over Cheverus (69-45), at South Portland (66-46) and at Thornton Academy Tuesday in a battle of unbeatens, 58-54.
Thursday, the Rams were seeking their first win over the Bulldogs since Feb. 7, 2013 (37-30 at home), but Portland got the job done again.
Points were at a premium early as it took 76 seconds for Portland to break the ice on a layup from Terion Moss.
Deering’s first points came with 4:40 to play in the first quarter, when junior Raffaele Salamone made two free throws.
A coast to coast layup from senior Malik White 17 seconds later gave the Rams a 4-2 lead, but that proved to be their only advantage of the game.
After Lyall tied the score with a putback, Esposito buried a 3-pointer from the corner with 3:05 to play in the opening frame and the Bulldogs had the lead for good.
After junior Manny Chikuta, seconds after checking in, drove for a layup, Foley made his first 3 and Esposito followed with another long range bomb for a 13-6 lead.
Deering senior Anthony Lobor countered with a jumper, but Amir Moss canned a 3 and as time wound down, after a steal, Terion Moss drove for a layup to give Portland a 10-point lead, 18-8, after eight minutes.
In the opening stanza, Amir Moss had just three points, but he snared seven rebounds.
The Bulldogs gradually extended their lead in the second period.
After Terion Moss drove for a layup, Amir Moss scored on a putback. Salamone answered with a layup, but senior John Williams set up Amir Moss for a fastbreak layup and a 24-10 lead.
The Rams hit their offensive stride and rattled off seven straight points, as Salamone banked home a shot, Lobor drove the baseline and kissed the ball in off the glass and White buried a long 3 to make it 24-17, but Portland roared right back on a 12-3 run.
Out of a Bulldogs timeout, Terion Moss fed his brother for a layup and 15 seconds later, Amir Moss made another layup to push the lead back to double digits. Senior Ben Williams made a free throw for Deering, but Amir Moss scored on a pretty reverse layup and Terion Moss made a layup after a steal for a 32-18 advantage.
A layup from Ben Williams momentarily stemmed the tide, but Foley hit a clutch 3 from the corner and Terion Moss added a foul shot. Lobor made two free throws just before halftime, but Portland took a 36-22 lead to the break.
In the first half, Amir Moss had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Terion Moss added nine points, three steals and a pair of assists and the Bulldogs had a solid team defensive effort to keep the Rams frustrated.
Little changed in the third quarter.
After Salamone opened the second half scoring with a free throw, Lobor drove for a layup to seemingly spark the hosts, but Foley made another clutch 3. After Lobor answered with a layup, Amir Moss banked home a shot. Salamone countered with a layup, but Esposito set up senior Ben Griffin for a layup, Foley made a layup and Esposito passed to Amir Moss for a layup and with 4:23 to go in the third, Portland had its biggest lead, 47-29.
Deering then made things interesting, closing the third period on an 8-0 run.
Williams got it started by scoring on a putback while being fouled, then adding the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play. After Salamone sank a free throw, junior Orey Dutton made his presence felt off the bench, draining consecutive jumpers to make it a 47-37 game with eight minutes to go.
When Williams set up Lobor for a layup 18 seconds into the fourth period, the Rams were only down eight, but Amir Moss grabbed an offensive rebound, was fouled and sank a free throw and Lyall set up Amir Moss for a layup and a 50-39 lead with 5:59 remaining.
The Rams got a leaner from Lobor, but Terion Moss scored on a leaner to push the lead back to double digits.
A pair of Williams free throws with 3:16 showing were followed by a White 3-pointer 29 seconds later, pulling Deering within two possessions, 52-46.
The Rams looked to draw even closer when Dutton stole the ball and apparently fed Chikuta for a layup, but Dutton was ruled to have stepped out of bounds a split second before dishing the ball off and Portland dodged a bullet.
The Bulldogs were fortunate again seconds later, as Lobor stole the ball, but missed a contested shot.
At the other end, Amir Moss got the ball, left a defender in his wake with a gorgeous spin move and made a layup to push the lead to 54-46 with 2:02 to go.
After Williams scored on a leaner with 1:41 left, Deering was again within six, 54-48 ,but Moss made another layup to push the lead to eight.
After Terion Moss missed the front end of a one-and-one, Lyall grabbed the offensive rebound and got the ball to Foley, who also missed the front end of his one-and-one.
After the Rams failed to convert at the other end, Lyall was fouled with 41.6 seconds remaining and both of his high arcing free throws found nothing but net for a 58-48 lead.
White countered with a 3, but Deering wouldn’t score again.
After Lyall grabbed Terion Moss’ missed shot and was fouled, he sank two more free throws and with 17.8 seconds to go, Foley made one final free throw to bring the curtain down on Portland’s 61-51 victory.
“(Deering’s) our biggest rival,” Amir Moss said. “It dates back a long time. They were undefeated and we were the underdog. It was big for bragging rights. Coach made sure we settled down and just played our game. We knew coming in it would be a good crowd and we’d have a lot of adversity. They were trying to keep us out of the paint, so when we hit 3s, it opened the lane. We got the ball in Terion’s hands. He’s a great point guard. He kept us under control.”
“We woke up and knew we couldn’t lose this,” Foley said. “We made shots and played defense and did everything right. Coach said that we were the underdog and he loves that. We do too. It was packed at Oxford Hills, but Portland-Deering is just different. I was excited. It’s a big game. We got the crowd on our side and got momentum. They have a good press, but we figured out how to space the floor and get smart shots. We took our time. This gives us more momentum and more will to win.”
“I had a game plan, but i wasn’t sure which one I would use,” Russo added. “I was able to stay with protecting the paint and keeping them out of the scoring area. We didn’t go 94 feet like we normally do, because they’re fast and strong. Every time they got close, we hit a big shot and that helped. We had a loss against Sanford and we struggled against other teams, so this gives me confidence. It took a total team effort.”
Amir Moss, who turned 18 Thursday and almost always saves his best for Deering, led the way with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
“Amir’s great,” Foley said. “He’s really clutch. He has ice water in his veins.”
“Amir played a monster game,” Russo said. “He did everything. He rebounded, he played great D and scored points. Those Deering guys are his friends, but when we play, they battle.”
Foley had 12 points, five assists, three rebounds and a steal.
“Griff did a nice job keeping the flow going and didn’t take bad shots,” Russo said.
Terion Moss finished with 11 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Esposito had the two big early 3s for six points, played stellar defense, grabbed seven rebounds, dished out six assists and had a pair of steals.
Lyall added six points (to go with nine boards) and Griffin had two.
“When Charlie’s rebounding, that helps the rest of the team,” Amir Moss said.
“To beat (Deering’s) pressure, you need five guys and my big guys, Benny and Charlie, they handled the ball in the middle and didn’t have turnovers,” Russo said. “I’m happy for them. Charlie had rebounds down the stretch and made four free throws. He gave us a little extra.”
The Bulldogs, despite being under constant pressure, only turned the ball over 14 times. They made just 7 of 18 free throws, but found a way to prevail.
Deering’s top scorer was Lobor, who had 17 points (as well as nine rebounds). Salamone had a double-double (10 points, 10 boards) and Williams also finished with a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds (as well as three blocked shots, three assists and two steals).
“When Ben got in the paint, we wanted two guys on him,” Russo said. “That’s when he’s most effective. He was tough tonight. He’s a good player. He kept them in striking distance.”
White had eight points, Dutton four and Chikuta two.
The Rams enjoyed a 38-36 rebounding advantage, but they turned the ball over 16 times and made just 11 of 20 free throws.
“I don’t think we executed enough at the start,” lamented Deering coach Todd Wing, who is now 0-7 against Portland. “It wasn’t good enough. (The Bulldogs) were red-hot. I didn’t think they’d maintain that all night and they didn’t. There was a point where they could have gone up by 30, but we fought back and got within six. That shows the heart we have. Anytime we got momentum, it got broken up for one reason or another. A jump ball that wasn’t called a jump or a steal that we somehow stepped out of bounds. We tried to overcome. This is my eighth year here at Deering and it’s the biggest crowd I’ve seen. Capacity crowd is 1,500 and it was standing room only. I’m glad the kids got the opportunity to play in front of this crowd.
“Portland’s a good team. Good teams make shots. Amir’s a good player. He’s tough to defend. He’s capable from behind the 3-point line. He scores in different ways. He leaks out well. Esposito knows he’s going and throws it. Players run harder when they know they’ll get the ball.
“We wanted to win tonight, obviously, but in the big scheme of things, 18-0 isn’t what we wrote down in the preseason. We want to be there in the end.”
Both teams are halfway through their four games in seven days stretch and have some heavy lifting yet to do before squaring off again Jan. 29 at the Expo.
Deering (still first in the Class AA North Heal Points standings) hopes to bounce back Saturday, when it hosts vastly improved Massabesic. The Rams have another big test at home Monday against Oxford Hills. A trip to Cheverus and a home tilt versus South Portland also loom.
“We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Wing said. “The attitude in the locker room after the game was positive. We’re ready to come in and work harder. Our ceiling is much higher. We’re still going to get better.”
Portland (second in the Heals) plays host to Cheverus Saturday (tip time has been changed to 2 p.m.), then goes to Thornton Academy for a showdown Monday. Home games against Massabesic and Deering and trips to South Portland and Cheverus also remain.
“This is a confidence builder, but we have to rebound as a team more and take care of the ball,” Amir Moss said. “Our man-to-man defense has to get better.”
“The schedule will help us avoid a letdown,” Russo said. “We have Cheverus, TA and Massabesic. If we have a letdown, we’ll lose three in a row.”
Portland senior Joe Esposito dribbles past Deering senior Anthony Lobor.
Portland sophomore Griffin Foley is defended by Deering junior Jean Claude Butera.
Portland senior Amir Moss goes up for an easy basket.
Deering senior Andrew Lobor shoots as Portland senior Joe Esposito defends.
Portland sophomore Terion Moss goes to the basket as Deering junior Raffaele Salamone defends.
Deering senior Ben Williams goes up for a layup.
Deering junior Raffaele Salamone snags a rebound away from Portland junior Charlie Lyall.
Portland’s Joe Russo makes a coaching point during the victory.
Deering coach Todd Wing gets his point across.
Portland’s student section had much to cheer about Thursday.
Deering’s student section was out in force as well.
Portland 39 @ Deering 35
@ Portland 46 Deering 22
Portland 60 @ Deering 57
@ Portland 71 Deering 47
@ Deering 59 Portland 50
@ Portland 53 Deering 47
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 48 Deering 41
@ Portland 63 Deering 55
Portland 64 @ Deering 49
Portland 63 @ Deering 58
Deering 61 @ Portland 58
Western A Final
Deering 70 Portland 64
@ Portland 54 Deering 46
Portland 55 @ Deering 52
Western A semifinals
Deering 57 Portland 54
Portland 85 @ Deering 46
@ Portland 65 Deering 38