SP boys overcome injuries, beat Massabesic in quarterfinals

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South Portland coach Kevin Millington and the Red Riots bench, including injured senior Riley Hasson (in blue), cheer during Wednesday’s 70-40 win over Massabesic in a Class AA South quarterfinal.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

South Portland 70 Massabesic 40

M- 12 4 11 13- 40
SP- 13 21 17 19- 70

M- Schepis 4-2-12, Desvergnes 3-1-8, Amabile 2-1-7, Beals 2-0-5, Kamenides 1-1-3, Bennett 1-0-2, Roy 1-0-2, Woods 0-1-1

SP- Buckley 9-2-23, Malone 6-1-14, Bialorucki 4-0-8, Lewis 3-0-7, Fiorini 3-0-6, Bijokta 2-0-5, Owen 2-0-4, Carr 1-0-3

3-pointers:
M (6) Amabile, Schepis 2, Beals, Desvergnes 1
SP (7) Buckley 3, Bijokta, Carr, Lewis, Malone 1

Turnovers:
M- 22
SP- 13

Free throws
M: 6-12
SP: 3-4

SOUTH PORTLAND—The injury bug hasn’t just bitten South Portland’s boys’ basketball team, it’s taken a giant chunk out of the two-time defending Class AA South champions, but the Red Riots know nobody is going to feel sorry for them and they’re not about to feel sorry for themselves either.

Wednesday evening at Beal Gymnasium, South Portland, the No. 2 seed in the region, welcomed No. 7 Massabesic for a quarterfinal round playoff game and it did so minus some of its most integral members.

While sophomores Geremi Baez and Juwaun Teele have been sidelined much of the season and the Red Riots have grown accustomed to the absence of senior Liam Coyne and junior Jacob Milton, the biggest blow might have occurred in the regular season finale when senior sparkplug Riley Hasson was lost for the year with an ankle injury.

South Portland has plenty of talent in reserve, however, and boasts no shortage of heart and desire as well and after a slow start, that was on full display.

The Mustangs took an early 12-6 lead, but the Red Riots got the final seven points of the first period, capped by a layup from junior Tyree Bijokta, to go on top by one.

Massabesic got a 3-pointer from senior Alex Schepis to start the second quarter, but South Portland roared to life and closed the first half on breathtaking 21-1 run, to take a 34-16 halftime advantage, sparked by 12 points from senior Connor Buckley and 10 from senior Noah Malone.

The Mustangs hoped to rally in the third period, but six points from Red Riots junior David Fiorini, who moved into the starting rotation, prevented it from happening and South Portland increased its advantage to 51-27.

Every Red Riot who took the floor contributed and South Portland went on and closed out a 70-40 victory.

The Red Riots got a game-high 23 points from Buckley, 14 from Malone and improved to 14-5, ended Massabesic’s season at 5-14 and advanced to meet familiar rival Thornton Academy (9-10), the No. 3 seed, in the Class AA South semifinals Tuesday of next week at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

“It’s obviously tough having two starters out going into playoffs, but we won’t use it as an excuse,” said Malone, “We’ve played basketball so long and we just wanted to come out and play hard. We started slow, but we turned it up defensively and we got easy baskets on the offensive end.”

Overcoming

After back-to-back trips to the Class AA state final (followed by losses to Portland), the Red Riots put together another solid campaign in 2017-18, but this time around, they finished second in the Heal Points standings to Scarborough.

South Portland won 13 of 18 games, losing twice to Portland and once each to Edward Little, Thornton Academy and defending Class A champion Greely.

Injuries have unquestionably taken their toll, however.

“We’ve had guys hurt, so we’ve dealt with it all along,” said Red Riots coach Kevin Millington. “Riley’s an emotional leader. We’re hoping for the best.”

Massabesic, a regional finalist as recently as two years ago, went 5-13 this winter, downing Noble twice, Deering, Marshwood and Sanford.

On Jan. 5, host South Portland handled the Mustangs, 62-33, behind 18 points from Malone.

The Red Riots won the only prior playoff meeting, a 62-60 win in the 2016 Class AA South Final.

Wednesday, South Portland overcame a slow start and got key performances from several sources as it went on to a decisive victory.

A 3-pointer from Malone opened the scoring 19 seconds in, but the Mustangs roared back behind a 3 from senior Nick Amabile and a layup after a steal from senior Isaac Desvergnes to go on top.

Malone countered with an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw), but on the fastbreak, Schepis set up sophomore Ethan Roy for a layup and Desvergnes and Schepis each added free throws before a 3 from Desvergnes made it 12-6 Mustangs with 2:32 to go in the opening stanza.

That would prove to be Massabesic’s highwater mark and the rest of the half would belong to the Red Riots.

South Portland closed the first period on a 7-0 run, as Buckley drove for a layup, Buckley hit a 3 and in the final minute, Bijokta made a layup after a steal for a 13-12 advantage.

The Mustangs briefly retook the lead on a 3 from Schepis 62 seconds into the second quarter, but a driving layup from Malone tied it and sparked a 13-0 run.

With 6:23 to go before halftime, a layup after a steal from Buckley put the Red Riots on top to stay.

Malone added a layup, Buckley buried a 3, Buckley drove for a layup with a nice finish and with 3:47 on the clock, junior Scott Lewis’ putback made it 26-15 South Portland.

A free throw from Amabile momentarily stemmed the tide, but 3s from Lewis and Bijokta and a Lewis jumper just before the horn made it 34-16 at halftime.

Buckley sparked the Red Riots in the first half with 12 points, while Malone added 10 and Lewis had seven. Massabesic turned the ball over 12 times.

In the third quarter, the Mustangs tried to rally, but South Portland quickly responded and opened up its lead.

Massabesic started the second half with a 3 from Amabile and a jumper from Schepis, but Buckley countered with a leaner, Malone drove the baseline for a layup and Fiorini drove for a layup to make it 40-21.

After a free throw from Schepis and a leaner from freshman Trevor Beals, the Red Riots ended all doubt, as Fiorini drove for a layup, Buckley buried a long 3-pointer, Malone finished a layup with his left hand and with 1:54 to go, a Fiorini putback made it 49-24.

Sophomore Greg Kamenides made a layup, then added a free throw for the Mustangs, but a Buckley jumper in the final minute made it 51-27 heading for the final quarter.

“I hadn’t been shooting as well as I wanted to in the regular season, so I figured I’d let it fly tonight,” Buckley said. “When I get in a rhythm, they tend to go in.”

Buckley started the fourth period with two free throws. After Desvergnes banked in a shot for Massabesic, Buckley drove for a layup for his final points and junior Gerik Bialorucki made a layup to push the lead to 57-29. 

Freshman Trevor Beals countered with a 3 for the Mustangs and Schepis made a layup, but Bialorucki made three straight layups, two coming after steals, and sophomore Hunter Owen banked home a shot to push the lead to 65-34.

Senior Roman Bennett made a layup for Massabesic and junior Robert Woods added a free throw before Owen made a leaner.

Then, in the final seconds, Schepis and Cade Carr traded 3s to bring the curtain down on the Red Riots’ 70-40 victory.

“I was a little concerned with the start,” Millington said. “If we were 100 percent healthy, I wouldn’t have been concerned. We had to play differently than we were playing. We played well. We played the best we could.”

Buckley led all scorers with 23 points and he also had four steals.

Malone finished with 14 points, seven boards and four steals.

“Me and Noah have been here before,” Buckley said. “We know how to control a game in the second half. We’ll have to do that again to get to our goal. We have the motivation to give more because we know how badly Liam and Riley want to be out there.”

Bialorucki added eight points, Lewis had seven (to go with eight rebounds), Fiorini six, Bijokta five, Owen four and Carr three.

“We looked at our team and we knew we had guys who could step up,” Buckley said. “It’s looking like they can do it.”

“David had some big contributions, Gerik did too and (junior) Logan Doucette had a nice stretch,” Millington said. “That kick-started us, then our three scorers started scoring. It’s South Portland, so we have 15 good players. That’s the difference from my experience (coaching) at Windham, where we had five or six, and here. The way we dealt with the injuries was we needed the best Buckley, Malone and Lewis and so on. Connor played his game tonight.”

The Red Riots had a 32-26 rebounding edge, made 3 of 4 free throws and only turned the ball over 13 times.

Massabesic got a dozen points from Schepis (who also had eight rebounds and three steals), eight from Desvergnes, seven from Amabile, five from Beals, three from Kamenides, two apiece from Bennett and Roy and one from Woods.

The Mustangs made 6 of 12 foul shots and committed 20 turnovers.

Tougher test

South Portland will get a chance to avenge a loss when it meets Thornton Academy in the semifinals next week. On Jan. 20, the Red Riots got 26 points from Malone, but trailed almost the whole way in a 76-64 setback in Saco.

The teams have met seven previous times in the playoffs dating back to 1970, with South Portland taking five of those games. The most recent was last year’s thrilling 71-61 overtime victory for the Red Riots in the AA South Final.

“We like playing over (at Cross Insurance Arena),” Buckley said. “It’s a great atmosphere. We hope we can bring everything we’ve got.”

“We have to go 100 percent 100 percent of the time,” said Malone. “We have to turn it up defensively. When we do that, it’s easier on the offensive end.”

“Liam and Riley won’t play at the Civic Center, but hopefully we’ll get good news on the other three because they could really help us,” Millington added. “(Thornton Academy) beat us when we had everybody, but we’re confident. We like playing over there. Thornton-South Portland is like Groundhog Day. We’ll go do it again. I have a lot of respect for them and (Coach) Bob Davies. We’ll have a play a good game. We’re focused.”

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

South Portland senior Connor Buckley soars for a shot. Buckley led all scorers with 23 points.

South Portland junior David Fiorini drives to the basket.

South Portland junior Tyree Bijokta defends Massabesic senior Nick Amabile.

South Portland senior Noah Malone drives past Massabesic freshman Trevor Beals.

South Portland junior Scott Lewis grabs a rebound in traffic.

South Portland senior Noah Malone and junior Tyree Bijokta celebrate a basket.

Previous South Portland stories

Season Preview

Portland 62 South Portland 53

Thornton Academy 76 South Portland 64

South Portland 67 Bonny Eagle 43

Edward Little 66 South Portland 62 (OT)

Portland 74 South Portland 62

Previous South Portland-Massabesic playoff results

2016 Class AA South Final
South Portland 62 Massabesic 60

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