South Portland junior Connor Buckley reacts after hitting a 3-pointer during the Red Riots’ 74-69 win at Portland in a state game rematch Monday night.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
SP- 15 24 15 20- 74
P- 15 7 19 28- 60
SP- Buckley 6-6-22, Malone 6-2-16, Bol 4-1-9, Oreste 4-0-8, White 3-2-8, Stilley 3-0-6, Hasson 1-0-3, Coyne 1-0-2
P- Moss 8-5-25, Foley 6-0-13, Fonseca 4-0-10, Hardy 4-2-10, Lyall 3-1-7, Yugu 1-1-3, Bellew 0-1-1
SP (7) Buckley 4, Malone 2, Hasson 1
P (7) Moss 4, Fonseca 2, Foley 1
PORTLAND—South Portland’s boys’ basketball team has given Portland all it could handle over the past year, but the Red Riots hadn’t been able to knock off the defending Class AA champions.
Until Monday night.
The ancient rivals did battle at the Portland Exposition Building in a pivotal late-season showdown and early in the contest, South Portland made a statement, racing to a 6-0 lead.
The Bulldogs, as expected, rallied and took a 16-15 lead after eight minutes when senior Charlie Lyall made a late basket, but the Red Riots dominated the second quarter, went ahead to stay on a jumper from senior Ruay Bol and sparked by Bol, junior Noah Malone and junior reserve Connor Buckley, won the frame by a 24-7 margin and they took a 39-23 lead to halftime
Portland made several runs in the second half, but still trailed, 54-42, after three quarters and despite drawing within four points in the final minute, couldn’t get any closer, as Buckley made four late free throws and South Portland enjoyed a 74-69 victory.
Buckley led all scorers with 22 points, the Red Riots improved to 14-3 and dropped the Bulldogs to 15-2, snapping their 11-game win streak in the process.
“It’s definitely a confidence builder,” said South Portland coach Kevin Millington. “They’re the state champs and they come at you. They came out swinging in the second half, right until the very end. We played well, but we have to play even better if we see them again.”
Portland and South Portland have seen plenty of each other the past two seasons and there’s a decent chance they’ll face off again in early March if all goes well.
Portland began its title defense with a 61-54 win at South Portland in a state game rematch, then downed visiting Bonny Eagle (71-45), Oxford Hills (73-52) and Lewiston (73-31). After stumbling at Edward Little (76-70), the Bulldogs caught fire and won at Noble (87-41) and Bangor (71-32), handled visiting Scarborough (67-38) and prevailed at Sanford (72-41) and Gorham (58-44) before downing visiting Deering (63-44) and rallying to edge host Cheverus, 47-43 and visiting Thornton Academy, 68-64. Most recently, Portland easily defeated visiting Windham (96-48) and host Massabesic (81-40) and Friday, the Bulldogs rolled at Deering, 67-47.
South Portland dropped its opener, 61-54, to visiting Portland. 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. South Portland finally met its match, falling, 56-54, at Deering, then got back on track with a 68-58 victory at Thornton Academy. After losing at home to Cheverus, 60-55, the Red Riots won at home over defending Class A champion Falmouth (68-60), Massabesic (67-33) and Windham (48-34) and at Cheverus (48-34).
The win in the season opener gave Portland a 122-101 all-time lead in the series, which dates to the 1909-10 season (see sidebar, below).
Monday, South Portland beat the Bulldogs for the first time since its infamous 20-16 overtime triumph two years ago and the first time at the Expo in the regular season since a 56-51 triumph Feb. 6, 2009.
South Portland got to the rim early, as Bol, senior Ansel Stilley and Malone (from Bol in transition) all made layups for a quick 6-0 lead, which forced Portland coach Joe Russo to call timeout.
The Bulldogs roared right back, as junior Terion Moss heated up with a 3-ball and after Bol made a jumper, Moss fed junior Griffin Foley for a layup and Moss got a leaner to fall to cut the deficit to 8-7.
After Malone made a 3 for the Red Riots, Moss stole the ball underneath, was fouled and hit two free throws, then rebounded a miss, went coast-to-coast for a left-handed layup while being fouled and added the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play for Portland’s first lead, 12-11.
South Portland went back on top on a layup from senior Moses Oreste, but a bank shot from senior Clay Hardy put the hosts back on top.
After junior Liam Coyne made a floater in the lane for the Red Riots, a bank shot from Lyall gave the Bulldogs a 16-15 lead after a see-saw first period.
There were five lead changes in the first eight minutes and Moss’ 10 points allowed Portland to rally back.
South Portland started the second period strong, scoring the first seven points to go on top to stay, as Bol made a jumper, Oreste set up Bol for a layup and junior Riley Hasson sank a 3.
A free throw from junior Manny Yugu stemmed the tide, but Buckley made his presence felt by sinking consecutive 3-pointers (the second from well beyond NBA range) for a 28-17 lead.
After Yugu scored on a drive, Oreste answered with a jumper in the lane and senior Deandre White set up Buckley for a layup.
Lyall made a free throw, but Buckley set up Stilley for a layup.
After sophomore Pedro Fonseca drove for a layup to cut the deficit to a dozen, Malone sank a 3 from the corner and White made a jumper for a 39-22 lead.
In the final minute, Hardy made a free throw, but the Red Riots took a commanding 16-point advantage to the break.
In the first half, Moss led all scorers with 10 points. South Portland got eight points apiece from Bol, Buckley and Malone.
In the third period, the hosts tried to make a run, but the Red Riots didn’t buckle.
Portland started the second half inauspiciously with a turnover and at the other end, Malone made a jumper to make it 41-23.
The Bulldogs then began to get to the line and chipped away at the deficit.
After Hardy scored on a putback, he made one of two free throws.
Oreste countered with a bank shot, but Moss scored on a leaner, then made two foul shots.
After Malone made one free throw for the visitors, Lyall hit a jumper in the lane.
Oreste countered with a floater, but Fonseca made a 3 and Hardy scored on a putback to make the deficit single digits.
After Stilley countered with a long jumper, Foley hit a floater, then Foley drove for a layup to make the score 48-41.
South Portland responded, as Buckley made two free throws, then somehow got a shot over the long arms of Portland sophomore Trey Bellew and banked it home. After Bellew made a free throw, Malone drive for a layup as time expired for a 54-42 lead heading for the fourth quarter.
There, South Portland held on for dear life and earned a huge road victory.
Buckley kept momentum in the Red Riots’ corner with a 3 to start the frame. After Hardy hit a bank shot, Bol was fouled and hit one of two attempts for a 58-44 lead.
Foley made a jumper, but Bol set up White for a layup.
Fonseca got two points back for the hosts with a layup, but Malone stole the ball and made a layup for a 62-48 advantage.
Portland got within 10, as Lyall scored on a leaner and Foley danced around two defenders before making a layup, but with 4:01 to go, Buckley sank his fourth 3.
Moss drove and scored on a finger roll, but White got a floater to bounce in.
With 2:21 to play, Fonseca’s 3-pointer from the corner made it a 10-point game and with 1:39 left, Moss sank a 3 to cut the deficit to 67-60, but Malone hit a free throw.
With 51.9 seconds remaining, Moss leaned around Bol, hung in midair, then somehow got a 3-pointer to drop to make it a five-point contest.
Eight seconds later, White calmly made two free throws, but with 34.5 seconds left, Foley got a long 3 to rattle in and just like that, Portland only trailed by four, 70-66.
South Portland refused to fold, however, as after milking some time off the clock, Buckley was fouled and made both free throws.
At the other end, Fonseca missed a 3, Hardy couldn’t convert on the putback and the rebound was knocked out of bounds to the Red Riots.
With 7.4 seconds remaining, Buckley, fittingly, produced the punctuation mark with a pair of free throws and even though Moss drained a 3 from 30 feet just before the horn, South Portland was able to celebrate a 74-69 victory.
“We were ready for a run,” Millington said. “We knew Portland wouldn’t let us run away. We needed to be able to handle their best shot and give a shot back.”
Buckley led all scorers with 22 points.
“I’m just trying to do anything it takes for my team to win the game,” Buckley said. “Tonight it was scoring, some nights it’s defense. We have a really balanced team. It can be anybody. Tonight, it happened to be me. My teammates set me up to hit shots. I just hit them. It’s only my second game (at the Expo). It was against all my friends tonight, playing against my friends. I grew up in Portland and I played AAU ball with Terion and Griffin. It feels good to beat them.”
“We have eight superstars and it was Buckley tonight,” Millington said. “He’s played well. He makes shots. Two or three times, he’s gotten us going on offense when other guys are struggling. Next time it’ll be someone else. We’re tough to guard because of that.”
Malone had 16 points, Bol nine (to go with seven rebounds and four assists), Oreste and White (three assists and three boards) eight apiece, Stilley six, Hasson three (to go with nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals) and Coyne two.
The Red Riots made 11 of 15 free throws and overcame 15 turnovers.
Portland was led by Moss, who had a game-high 25 points. He also had three assists, three rebounds and three steals. Foley added 13 (and three assists), Fonseca and Hardy (eight boards and two steals) 10 apiece, Lyall (five rebounds, three blocks) seven, Yugu three and Bellew one.
The Bulldogs had a 28-27 rebounding advantage, made 10 of 17 foul shots and committed 12 turnovers.
“We just didn’t play very well tonight,” Russo said. “They’re a very good team. You can’t spot them 15 points. This was a product of how we’ve been acting. We need something every once awhile like this. We almost came back and beat them, but that wouldn’t have been good. If we deserved to win, we would have won. Every time we got it to six or seven points, they hit shots or foul shots. They made plays to give them a cushion.
“When you’re the defending champions and you’re 15-1 and you’re winning, you need something to shake the cage every once in awhile. We’ve lost twice so far and both times, teams scored over 70 points. We’re a pretty darn good defensive team, but we were atrocious tonight. Coming back is a good sign, but you have to earn it.”
The regular season has dwindled down to one game.
Portland finishes at home versus Cheverus Wednesday. The Bulldogs need to win to guarantee they will be the top seed in Class AA North for the second year in a row.
“Hopefully, this will wake us up,” Russo said. “There’s always extra pressure on us. We’re a top team in the league. Now, the kids will hopefully relax and play hard.”
South Portland has the top spot in Class AA South wrapped up. The Red Riots close the regular season Thursday at home versus Deering.
“It’s good to have these games heading down the stretch,” Buckley said. “I feel like in the big games, we do what we have to do.”
“We can pat ourselves on the back beating Portland, but in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t mean a lot,” Millington said. “We have to refocus. We have Deering Thursday and we want to finish strong.”
Portland junior Manny Yugu contorts his body to elude South Portland senior Moses Oreste, who was called for a foul on the play.
Portland sophomore Trey Bellew shoots over South Portland senior Ruay Bol.
Portland junior Thomas Joyce and South Portland junior Riley Hasson and senior Ansel Stilley battle for a rebound.
Portland senior Clay Hardy beats a defender and makes a layup.
Portland junior Terion Moss shoots over South Portland junior Riley Hasson.
Portland junior Griffin Foley holds on to the ball despite the defensive effort of South Portland junior Noah Malone.
South Portland senior Ruay Bol goes up over Portland senior Charlie Lyall for two points.
South Portland senior Moses Oreste lines up a shot.
South Portland junior Noah Malone shoots as Portland senior Clay Hardy defends.
@ Portland 45 South Portland 43
@ South Portland 20 Portland 16 (OT)
Portland 79 @ South Portland 49
@ Portland 64 South Portland 42
@ Portland 63 South Portland 47
@ South Portland 52 Portland 42
Western A semifinals
South Portland 49 Portland 41
Portland 61 @ South Portland 57
@ Portland 52 South Portland 48
Western A quarterfinals
South Portland 39 Portland 37
@ Portland 80 South Portland 71 (3 OT)
Portland 59 @ South Portland 54
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 69 South Portland 45
Portland 56 @ South Portland 49
@ Portland 49 South Portland 48
@ South Portland 57 Portland 49
South Portland 56 @ Portland 51
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 72 South Portland 49
@ Portland 65 South Portland 50
@ South Portland 67 Portland 57
Portland 79 @ South Portland 76
@ Portland 53 South Portland 51
Portland 75 @ South Portland 63
@ Portland 87 Portland 60
@ Portland 71 South Portland 53
Portland 78 @ South Portland 58
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 58 South Portland 51
Portland 98 @ South Portland 44
@ Portland 66 South Portland 29
Portland 62 @ South Portland 36
@ Portland 59 South Portland 40
@ Portland 65 South Portland 61
Portland 67 @ South Portland 52