South Portland delivers statement win in Saco in pivotal AA South showdown

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South Portland senior Deandre White (1) and junior Connor Buckley celebrate during the Red Riots’ 68-58 win at Thornton Academy Friday night. Defending Class AA South champion South Portland handed the Golden Trojans their first loss.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

South Portland 68 Thornton Academy 58

SP- 16 13 18 21- 68
TA- 5 16 13 24- 58

SP- Bol 7-0-15, Stilley 3-7-14, Malone 5-1-12, Hasson 3-5-11, White 3-1-8, Buckley 1-1-3, Coyne 1-0-3, Oreste 1-0-2

TA- Keohan 6-8-20, Boudreau 4-0-11, Fogg 3-4-10, Christensen 4-1-9, Mckenzie 1-0-3, Robinson 1-1-3, Rosario 1-0-2

3-pointers:
SP (5) Bol, Coyne, Malone, Stilley, White 1
TA (4) Boudreau 3, Mckenzie 1

Turnovers:
SP- 10
TA- 17

Free throws
SP: 15-22
TA: 14-18

SACO—Defending Class AA South boys’ basketball champion South Portland was aware of all the buzz heading into Friday’s night’s showdown at undefeated Thornton Academy.

The Red Riots, coming off a tough loss at Deering in their last outing, were tired of hearing about how great the Golden Trojans were and decided to do something about it at Linnell Gymnasium and in the process, they struck the first blow in what figures to be a two-part passion play this winter.

South Portland quickly seized control of this one, trailing only once, before going on a 16-2 run to close the first quarter to go ahead, 16-5, thanks to seven points from senior Ruay Bol.

Thornton Academy, sparked by junior David Keohan, hit its stride in the second period and got as close as one, but the Red Riots closed on a 7-0 run to take a 29-21 lead to halftime.

The second half would be similar to the first, as the Golden Trojans made runs, but South Portland, thanks to a solid team-wide effort, answered every single one.

After the hosts drew within seven points in the third quarter, a 10-2 surge, punctuated by a layup from junior energizer bunny Riley Hasson, gave the Red Riots a 43-28 lead and they took a 47-34 advantage to the fourth.

There, a long 3-pointer from senior sharpshooter Austin Boudreau pulled Thornton Academy within six in the final minute, but South Portland refused to buckle and hit free throws down the stretch to prevail, 68-58.

Bol led the way with 15 points, senior Ansel Stilley, behind a huge second half, added 14 and the Red Riots improved to 9-2, took over the top spot in the Class AA South Heal Points standings and handed the Golden Trojans their first loss in 12 games in the process.

“It was tough to take a loss at Deering,” said Hasson, who in addition to scoring 11 points, grabbed six rebounds and had five steals. “We thought we played better, but we couldn’t knock down shots. We were agitated by that loss and hearing about how good TA is this year. We felt snubbed. It was nice to come in here and even when they made runs, step up and get a big win. It’s fun to play in big games. That’s what we play for, big games like this.” 

Set apart

It’s clear at this stage of the season that these two teams have set themselves apart in Class AA South and will be the top two squads for the tournament.

Entering the game, Thornton Academy had passed every test so far. After opening with a 55-34 win at Marshwood, the Golden Trojans rolled over visiting Scarborough (85-56), won at Biddeford (61-50) and Sanford (69-50), at home over Noble (82-53) and Bonny Eagle (56-40), at Scarborough (74-51) and at Gorham (61-40). After earning a key win at Deering (56-53), Thornton Academy handled visiting Bangor (68-40) and won at Massabesic (67-32). 

South Portland dropped its opener, 61-54, to visiting Portland in a state game rematch. The Red Riots then rattled off eight straight victories: 59-50 at Westbrook, 56-42 over visiting Gorham, 75-35 at Noble, 82-61 at home over Scarborough, 47-32 at Bonny Eagle, 66-37 over visiting Sanford, 73-41 at Lewiston and 65-52 at Scarborough. Last Saturday, South Portland finally met its match, falling, 56-54, at Deering. 

The teams split last winter, with Thornton Academy winning at South Portland in the regular season, 52-42, and the Red Riots returning the favor as part of their stirring playoff run, 39-36, in the AA South semifinals.

Friday, South Portland got the better of Thornton Academy once more.

While the Golden Trojans got the first basket, a 3-pointer from senior Avery Mckenzie, South Portland couldn’t have asked for a better first quarter, as it scored 16 of the next 18 points.

After Bol got things going with a 3, Hasson stole the ball and fed Bol for a layup and the lead. Senior Noah Malone drained a jumper and with 5:12 to play in the quarter, Keohan made a layup for what proved to be Thornton Academy’s final points of the frame.

The next nine points went to the Red Riots, as Malone hit a jumper, Bol spun in the lane and hit a shot, Stilley took a pass from junior Connor Buckley and made a layup and junior Liam Coyne buried a 3 for a 16-5 advantage after one period.

In the second, the Golden Trojans made an expected run, but the visitors responded.

With 7:28 left in the half, two free throws from senior John Fogg snapped a 5 minute, 44 second drought, but South Portland answered, as Bol set up senior Moses Oreste for an ally-oop layup.

After Thornton Academy senior Evan Christensen scored on a putback, Bol answered with a jumper. Keohan made a bank shot and Boudreau knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to 20-14, but Hasson drove for a layup.

The hosts then scored seven straight to almost take the lead.

Keohan got it started with a layup. He then made two free throws and Christensen was fouled while making a layup and sank the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play, cutting South Portland’s lead to 22-21.

But the Red Riots rose up and closed the half on a 7-0 run to restore order.

A driving layup by Bol ended the surge, senior Deandre White buried a 3 from the corner and Bol hit a leaner to make it 29-21 at the break.

In the first half, Bol had 13 points and South Portland only turned the ball over twice, while the Golden Trojans were paced by Keohan’s eight points, but committed 11 turnovers.

The Red Riots were able to retain the lead in the third quarter and even extended it.

South Portland started the second half with a jumper from Bol and a Malone layup (set up by Hasson, who grabbed the rebound and dished off a perfect pass while falling to the court). After Fogg made two free throws, Keohan scored on a putback, then made a foul shot to cut the deficit to 33-26, but Malone calmly drained a 3.

After Keohan set up Fogg for a layup, the Red Riots got two free throws from Stilley, a pretty reverse layup from Stilley, a foul shot from Stilley and a layup by Hasson for a 43-28 lead. 

The hosts then went on a run, as Keohan hit a jumper, Christensen went coast to coast for a layup and Christensen made another layup after a nice move, but in the final minute, Hasson drained two foul shots and Buckley set up Hasson for a layup and a 47-34 lead after three periods.

Thornton Academy refused to go quietly in the fourth, but South Portland didn’t buckle.

Two free throws from Keohan started the final stanza, but Stilley came up huge, draining a 3, then after a Coyne steal, making a layup for a 52-36 advantage with 7:05 left.

Back came the Golden Trojans with nine in a row, as Boudreau made a layup, then hit a deep 3-pointer, senior Johnny Rosario scored on a putback and after a Christensen steal, Fogg’s layup cut the deficit to 52-45 with 5:45 remaining.

White stemmed the tide with a putback and after Keohan made one free throw, Malone made a layup while being fouled and hit the free throw to complete the three-point play for a 57-46 lead with 4:25 to go.

Keohan answered with two free throws (after Hasson got his fourth foul and had to sit) and a putback to cut the deficit to seven, but on cue, White took a feed from Stilley and made a layup and with 1:22 left, Buckley drove for a layup and a 61-50 lead.

The Golden Trojans had one final push, but it wasn’t enough.

After senior Austin Robinson converted a three-point play to cut the deficit to eight, Buckley made one free throw, but with 46.6 seconds left, Boudreau’s long 3 made it a two-possession game, 62-56.

Hasson, playing with four fouls, was fouled five seconds later and on the play, a technical foul was called, giving Hasson four free throws. He made three to essentially salt away the victory.

In the waning seconds, White made a free throw and after Fogg scored on a putback for Thornton Academy’s final points, two Stilley foul shots brought the curtain down on South Portland’s 68-58 victory.

“We came in with a chip on our shoulder after losing to Deering and we played hard,” Stilley said. “We had to spread the floor, move the ball and make good decisions. We were aware they were undefeated and we wanted to give them their first loss. We wanted to stay aggressive and rebound well.”

“We haven’t been in a situation where we had the ball with a lead,” South Portland coach Kevin Millington said. “Doing that for the first time was hard. I talked to (Thornton Academy coach Bob Davies) before the game. Both of us have played Deering, but the rest of our schedule has been pretty easy. It’s been hard to keep practices competitive. It was fun to play a game. In the big scheme of things, it’s a great win and I don’t want to downplay it, but it’s not as important as the game we’ll hopefully play at the Civic Center.”

Bol had a team-high 15 points (13 coming in the first half).

Stilley scored 12 second half points and had 14 total, to go with six rebounds and four blocked shots.

“Ansel has been huge every half,” Millington said. “He’s been great.”

Malone had 12 points (as well as five boards and a block) and Hasson was his usual pesky self, scoring 11 points, registering five steals, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out a pair of assists.

“Riley is a stat filler,” Millington said. “He might not get 20 points or 12 rebounds, but he gets a little of everything. He’s been bored the past eight games more than anyone on our team. He thrives on competition. I don’t know if he loves basketball as much as he loves competition. Against Deering and tonight, he had a different look in his eye.”

White added eight points, while Buckley (four assists) and Coyne had three apiece and Oreste finished with two.

“I think we have a really deep team,” Hasson said. “We’re all athletic. Even in our practices, our JV team is good and they push us to get better.”

“We have eight starters,” Millington said. “If a guy gets in foul trouble, someone else can do it. Our depth is a great asset. We don’t have a player who specializes in something. Our eight starters can all handle the ball, shoot and rebound. I like this group a lot. They play together. We don’t have one guy we rely on too heavily. They stick together the whole time.”

The Red Riots only committed 10 turnovers in a hostile setting and hit 15 of 22 free throws.

Thornton Academy was paced by Keohan, who had a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds. He also had three assists, two blocks and two steals.

Boudreau added 11 points, Fogg had 10, Christensen nine (to go with nine rebounds and three assists), Mckenzie and Robinson three apiece and Rosario two (to go with five boards and two blocks).

The Golden Trojans had a 34-30 rebounding advantage and made 14 of 18 foul shots, but turned the ball over on 17 occasions.

Collision course

There’s a very good chance the teams will meet again in late February in the regional final at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, but both will receive several tests in the interim.

The Golden Trojans (second in AA South) will look to bounce back when they go to Portland Tuesday. After hosting Gorham, Cheverus and Sanford, Thornton Academy goes to Windham, then closes the regular season at home versus Biddeford.

The Red Riots are going full bore the rest of the way. They host Cheverus in a makeup game Monday, then welcome defending Class A champion Falmouth in a crossover test Tuesday. After hosting Massabesic and Windham, South Portland plays at Cheverus and Portland before closing at home versus Deering.

“I think the players returning, last year is in the back of our minds,” Hasson said. “We’ll try not to think about it until the tournament starts. I feel like this team is special. We’re close and we like being around each other. We have to stay calm and play our game against the good teams. When we play our game, we can play with anybody.”

“I feel like this team is special,” Stilley said. “We’re unselfish and move the ball around. We have to finish games out better. We’re looking forward to playing Portland again.”

“This is what we want, good games,” Millington added. “Without close games last year, we wouldn’t have made a run in the tournament.”

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

South Portland junior Liam Coyne soars over senior teammate Ruay Bol and Thornton Academy junior David Keohan for a rebound.

South Portland junior Noah Malone goes up for a shot as Thornton Academy senior Avery Mckenzie defends.

South Portland junior Liam Coyne and Thornton Academy senior Austin Boudreau collide going for a loose ball.

South Portland senior Ruay Bol skies over Thornton Academy junior David Keohan for a basket.

South Portland junior Connor Buckley is defended by Thornton Academy senior Avery Mckenzie.

South Portland senior Ruay Bol and Thornton Academy junior David Keohan meet at the rim.

South Portland junior Riley Hasson splits a pair of Thornton Academy defenders.

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