Portland sophomore Terion Moss goes up for two of his 18 points as Deering junior Raffaele Salamone defends during the Bulldogs’ 74-62 victory Friday night. Portland beat the Rams for the eighth straight time and all but locked up the top seed for the Class AA North tournament.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
D- 18 10 16 18- 62
P- 18 20 20 16- 74
D- Williams 6-6-18, Salamone 5-6-16, White 5-0-13, Chabot 5-0-10, Lobor 2-1-5
P- A. Moss 8-2-20, T. Moss 6-4-18, Esposito 3-2-10, Fonseca 4-0-9, Griffin 2-2-6, Foley 2-0-4, Lyall 2-0-4, Williams 1-0-2, Clarke 0-1-1
D (3) White 3
P (7) Esposito, A. Moss, T. Moss 2, Fonseca 1
PORTLAND—The gap between Portland’s boys’ basketball team and rest of the field continues to widen.
Much to the chagrin of the Bulldogs’ biggest rival.
Friday evening, in front of a raucous crowd at the Portland Exposition Building, Portland and Deering played the 222nd edition of their storied rivalry and for the eighth straight time, the Bulldogs wound up on top.
The Rams gave the two-time defending regional champions all they could handle in the frenetic first quarter, leading on four different occasions, but Portland counter-punched each time and behind six points from sophomore ballhandling wizard Terion Moss and five from unheralded senior Ben Griffin, forged an 18-18 tie.
The Bulldogs then gradually pulled away, as their greatest strengths, balance and unselfishness, proved too much for Deering to handle.
After Moss froze a defender and drove for a layup to break a 23-23 tie, Portland had the lead for good. The Bulldogs closed the first half on an 11-3 run, capped by a leaner from senior John Williams, and even though it felt like the game was closer, Portland had a double digit advantage at the break, 38-28.
The Rams, behind the will of junior Raffaele Salamone, tried to hang tough, but the Bulldogs gained ground in the third period as well, capping the frame on an improbable 3-point shot from Moss to take a 58-44 advantage to the final stanza.
There, Portland senior Amir Moss got things started with a 3 of his own and Portland eventually opened up a 21 point lead, 72-51, before Deering, which fought hard to the end, finished strong only to see the Bulldogs prevail, 74-62.
Amir Moss had a game-high 20 points, Terion Moss added 18, senior Joe Esposito, five days after winning football’s biggest prize, stuffed the stat sheet as well and nine different players scored as Portland improved to 15-1, all but locked up the top seed for the upcoming Class AA North playoffs and dropped the Rams to 14-2 in the process.
“We talked about what Deering was going to do,” said longtime Bulldogs coach Joe Russo, who won his 377th game with the program and improved to 35-22 versus the Rams. “They’re a quality team. I knew they’d come out guns firing and I told the kids to meet their intensity. I was really pleased with that. I sat back and thought it was wonderful that we shared the ball, ran the floor, played good team defense, stuck together and helped each other.”
The ancient rivals first squared off on the hardwood Dec. 30, 1911 and over more than a century, heading into Friday’s showdown, Portland opened up an advantage of 143 victories to 78, including 23 of the past 30 (see sidebar, below) and seven in a row.
This winter, the Bulldogs and Rams have clearly been the gold standard in Class AA North.
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 in a 58-55 home loss to Gorham. The Bulldogs got back on track with a 72-42 home win over Sanford, then won at Deering (61-51), held on for a 61-59 win at Thornton Academy, dominated visiting Cheverus (72-42), rolled at Windham (62-39) and Tuesday made it six straight victories with a 71-57 home win over Massabesic.
“The Gorham loss, how we lost it and how we came back and almost won it, we learned a lot,” Russo said. “When we went down against Massabesic, we reacted differently than we did against Gorham. It was one play at a time.”
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, 58-54. Deering’s undefeated run ended with a 61-51 home loss to Portland, but the Rams bounced back to down visiting Oxford Hills (81-59), visiting Massabesic (70-67), host Cheverus (49-43) and visiting Bonny Eagle (72-49).
In the game earlier this month, Portland jumped out early and never looked back, going on to win by 10 points thanks to Amir Moss’ 24 points and 13 rebounds), 12 points from sophomore Griffin Foley and 11 points from Terion Moss, while senior Anthony Lobor led the Rams with 17 points.
Friday, in front of nearly full house that remained vocal throughout, the Rams were seeking their first win over the Bulldogs since Feb. 7, 2013 (37-30 at home) and their first at the Expo since Feb. 3, 2006 (61-58), but Portland did enough to down Deering for the eighth straight time.
After a rousing rendition of the national anthem by Portland students Deron Cohen and Brooke Pompano, the teams put on a show from the get-go.
Ben Williams broke the ice with a free throw 12 seconds in to give the Rams a quick lead, but at the other end, Esposito knocked down a 3.
After Deering tied the score on a driving finger roll from senior Max Chabot, Terion Moss scored his first points, making a layup after a pretty move past a defender.
The Rams drew even again on another Chabot basket, a bank shot, but Amir Moss set up Griffin for a layup and a 7-5 Bulldogs’ lead.
Deering answered, as Salamone made a bank shot and Lobor scored on a driving layup for a 9-7 advantage, but Griffin countered with an old-fashioned three-point play, making a layup after a feed from Terion Moss, being fouled and adding the free throw.
The Rams went back on top by two, 12-10, when senior Malik White got a 3-point shot to roll around and in, but a leaner from Amir Moss tied the score.
A coast to coast layup from Ben Williams gave Deering its last lead, 14-12.
Terion Moss tied the game with two foul shots, then gave the hosts the lead with a leaner in the lane. A pair of Williams foul shots tied the game, junior Charlie Lyall set up freshman Pedro Fonseca for a layup to put Portland back on top and with 5.3 seconds showing, Salamone hit a jumper to forge the sixth tie of the opening stanza and make it 18-18 after eight palpitating minutes.
The pace didn’t slow in the second quarter, but Portland managed to have the better of play, as the Bulldogs took better care of the ball and made the most of their extra opportunities.
Esposito set up Fonseca for a 3 from the corner to start the new period and after Chabot answered with a jumper, Amir Moss set up Lyall for a layup and a 23-20 lead.
With 6:08 to go in the half, a long 3 from White tied the score, but 36 seconds later, Terion Moss drove past a defender and made a layup to put Portland on top for good.
The Bulldogs’ next basket featured Esposito’s athleticism and unselfishness.
Esposito, who was crowned the Fitzpatrick Trophy winner as Maine’s top senior football player Sunday, spotted Fonseca ahead of the Deering defense and although he’s a running back on the gridiron, it’s unlikely you’ll see a better pass in the Super Bowl, as he hit his teammate in stride for a layup and a 27-23 lead.
“It’s been a great week for me,” Esposito said. “The way we run our offense, we’re always running the court, looking for a fastbreak layup. I can find my teammates. They make it easy on me.”
“When Espo gets a rebound, we run the floor so he can get the ball to us,” Amir Moss said. “We’re an unselfish team.”
Rams coach Todd Wing called timeout and Salamone made him look good by being fouled after an offensive rebound and making both free throws.
After Esposito set up Amir Moss for a layup, Lobor drove and scored a reverse layup to make it 29-27.
Deering would never get any closer, as Portland finished the first half strong.
First, Esposito buried a 3 in the corner. After Amir Moss scored on a putback, Terion Moss scored on a runner off the glass and just like that, the Bulldogs were up nine.
A free throw from Salamone momentarily stemmed the tide, but inside the final minute, John Williams, after a nice jump step, hit a leaner and that gave Portland a 38-28 advantage heading into the locker room.
In the first half, the Bulldogs got 10 points from Terion Moss, seven from Fonseca and six apiece from Esposito and Amir Moss while turning the ball over a mere three times (none in the second quarter).
The Rams got seven points from Salamone and six apiece from Chabot and White, but nine turnovers helped dig a hole.
After Portland’s 1999 undefeated Class A championship team was honored at halftime, little changed in the third period, as Deering fought hard in an attempt to rally, but Portland met every challenge.
A leaner from Lyall started the second half scoring, but a three-point play from Salamone (putback, foul, free throw) cut the deficit to nine.
After Amir Moss drove for a left-handed layup, Salamone set up Ben Williams for a layup to again make it a nine-point game.
A pair of Esposito free throws were countered by a jumper from White and after freshman Trey Bellew blocked a shot at one end, Esposito set up Foley for a left-handed layup and a 46-35 lead.
White made a 3, but Terion Moss pushed the lead back to 10 with two free throws. A foul shot from Lobor was countered at the other end by the Moss brothers, as Terion fed Amir for a long 3, which found the bottom of the net as a foul was called and the elder Moss added a free throw for the rarely seen four-point play and a 52-39 lead with 3:01 to go in the frame.
Deering refused to buckle, as Williams set up Chabot for a layup and Williams made a foul shot, but Lyall set up Terion Moss for a 3 and after White scored on a leaner, Terion Moss brought the house down.
As time wound down in the third period, Moss didn’t seem to be aware of the clock, but something alerted him at the last possible second and after juking a defender, Moss threw up a prayer of a 3 from well beyond the NBA stripe and as the horn sounded, it tickled the twine for a commanding 58-44 lead.
“Amir kept yelling, ‘Shoot, shoot!’ and I looked up and I saw there were two seconds left and I shot it and it went in,” Terion Moss said.
“I had to warn him a couple times that the clock was running down,” Amir Moss said. “He put it up and got it in.”
Lest he be overshadowed by his baby brother, Amir Moss started the fourth quarter with a long 3 of his own to push the lead to 17.
Williams got a point back for the Rams, but Foley scored on a runner. After Williams made a putback, Chabot banked home a shot with the left hand to make it 63-49 with 5:26 remaining.
Undaunted, Portland responded, as Foley stole the ball and set up Fonseca for a layup, Esposito banked home a shot and with 3:56 to go, Esposito set up Amir Moss for a layup and a 20-point advantage.
Williams got two points back with a bank shot, but off an inbounds set, Esposito fired ahead to Amir Moss for a layup and Amir Moss added a layup for the Bulldogs’ biggest lead, 72-51.
After Salamone made two free throws, Salamone scored on a putback before a free throw from Griffin produced an 18-point lead.
A putback from Williams and a Williams three-point play was countered by a free throw from Bulldogs sophomore Quinn Clarke. With 16 seconds remaining, Salamone’s layup produced the final points and Portland went on to a 74-62 triumph.
“Deering gets us fired up more than other teams,” Terion Moss said. “We don’t want to lose to them. Our crowd really got us going tonight.”
“We came out and played hard and tried to match their intensity,” Amir Moss said. “We knew they’d come out tough and physical and it would be back and forth, but we ended up hanging in there and staying confident. There were a lot of people here. Someone told me that there were more here than at the (NBA Developmental League) Red Claws (games). Our team chemistry just keeps building and getting better each week.”
“We kept our energy up and our momentum going,” Esposito said. “We didn’t let them get on a run. We were able to get up and kill their momentum.”
“I loved that we spread the ball,” Russo added. “That inside-out is like poetry. I tell the players all the time, enjoy it because you’re making great memories. It’s an awesome ride, enjoy it. I’m very fortunate.”
As per usual, Portland’s balance was breathtaking.
Amir Moss led the way with 20 points. He also had six rebounds, three steals, two blocked shots and two assists.
Terion Moss was every bit as impressive, scoring 18 points, grabbing five boards and dishing out three assists.
After the game, the brothers talked about their relationship on the floor.
“It’s kind of supportive, but I want to match him,” Terion Moss said. “He inspires me. Sometimes.”
“Whoever has the most points and assists, we talk about it at home,” Amir Moss said. “On the court, we just look to make our teammates better and get the ‘W.'”
“Those two guys know how to play,” Russo added. “They share the ball. It all goes through them.”
Esposito finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals.
“When the game’s over, sometimes I look at the scorebook and see Joey had three points or 10 points, but it seems like had 100 points, because of his assists and rebounds,” Russo said. “He’s unbelievable. He’s a beast out there.”
Fonseca added nine points, Griffin had six, Foley and Lyall four apiece, Williams two and Clarke one.
Portland only committed 12 turnovers and made 11 of 16 free throws.
Deering’s top scorer was Williams, who had 18 points (to go with eight rebounds and three steals). Salamone had another double-double (16 points, 12 boards), while White had 13 points, Chabot 10 and Lobor five.
The Rams had a 33-30 rebounding advantage, but gave the ball away 15 times and shot 13 of 22 from the charity stripe.
“In practice all week, we emphasized spacing and being ball tough, but it didn’t show tonight,” said Wing, who is now 0-8 against Portland. “It starts with fundamentals. You have to come out on shooters with a high hand. You have to be better at help defense, talking to each other. We weren’t mentally tough. In big games, it gets loud. The more you talk, the more you cover up for mistakes.
“Individuals tonight performed well, but it takes more than individuals to be a championship contender. That wasn’t the case tonight. After watching film on the first game, I was a little more encouraged. We did good things in the second half of last game that I thought we could build on, but we didn’t do that.”
The Bulldogs and Rams appear to be on a collision course for the Class AA North Final Feb. 20 in Augusta, but that’s far from a guarantee.
Deering (which will likely be the No. 2 seed in the region) goes to Scarborough Tuesday and closes at home versus South Portland Thursday.
“We can’t take Scarborough lightly, or South Portland,” Wing said. “Who knows who we’ll get in the playoffs? Each game, we try to get better and tonight, I feel as a team, as a staff, we didn’t get better. We still have a lot of work to do.”
Portland (which will be the No. 1 seed for the third straight season) is at South Portland Tuesday and finishes its regular season at Cheverus Thursday.
“I think we’re doing pretty well right now,” Terion Moss said. “We just need to be more consistent.”
“We’ll keep working hard in practice night in, night out and make sure we don’t lose again,” Amir Moss said. “We can work on our intensity level when we first come out and our team defense. We have to focus on that.”
“As the season is going along, we’re clicking more and more,” Esposito said. “Our offense is getting there. It won’t be easy to end the season, but it will get us prepared for playoffs. That will help us go far.”
“If we’re both fortunate, we’ll meet in the Northern Maine championship,” Russo added. “Cheverus and South Portland are still rivals and they’re good teams. We cant’t take them lightly. At this point, I can’t ask for too much more other than cleaning up some things. We can still get better.”
Portland senior Amir Moss knocks the ball away from Deering junior James Sinclair.
Deering senior Ben Williams, who had a team-high 18 points, drives on Portland freshman Trey Bellew.
Deering senior Anthony Lobor goes up for a shot between Portland defenders senior Joe Esposito, left, and junior Charlie Lyall.
Deering senior Malik White looks to pass to junior Manny Chikuta as Portland sophomore Griffin Foley defends.
Deering junior Raffaele Salamone muscles a shot over Portland junior Charlie Lyall.
Portland senior Amir Moss and Deering junior Manny Chikuta hit the floor as they battle for possession.
Portland senior Joe Esposito goes up for a shot.
Portland 61 @ Deering 51
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