STANDISH—The South Portland boys’ basketball team feels it’s as good as anyone in Western Class A.
After letting a win slip away against defending state champion Deering earlier this month and losing at Portland in a playoff rematch, the Red Riots got a third crack at an elite foe, reigning regional finalist Bonny Eagle, Monday afternoon and the third time proved to be a charm.
Even if it took a long, long time.
In 40 minutes of palpitating, frenetic basketball, which featured 14 lead changes and six ties, yet only produced a combined 18 turnovers, the Red Riots and Scots traded knockout punches, but 32 minutes weren’t enough to produce resolution.
Bonny Eagle rode its sensataional long-distance shooting (seven 3-pointers in the first quarter alone) and the all-around brilliance of junior standout Dustin Cole to lead much of the way and the Scots were up by four with time winding down, but South Portland senior sharpshooter Tanner Hyland then stole the show, knocking down a 3-ball with 6.1 seconds to go, then, after two Cole free throws, banking home a long 3-pointer at the horn to send the game to overtime.
The Red Riots were on the verge of victory in OT, but this time, Bonny Eagle rallied and tied the score on two free throws from sophomore Ben Malloy with 14.5 seconds left to force a second extra session.
There, finally, South Portland ended it, taking the lead for good on a layup from sophomore Jaren Muller with 2:13 remaining, then getting clutch foul shooting from senior Conner MacVane (who was tremendous on the glass all day) and Hyland to slam the door on the 82-77 triumph.
Hyland led the way for the Red Riots with 23 points, inside standouts Muller and seniors Ben Burkey and Jack Tolan combined for 47 more and South Portland made a major statement in improving to 11-2 on the year, dropping the gallant Scots (who got 28 points from Cole) to 10-3.
“That was a great high school basketball game,” said Red Riots coach Phil Conley. “I thought both teams played outstanding. This is a huge win for us. For my kids, we had a tough loss against Deering, being up with eight seconds to go with the ball. We needed a win against a quality team like Bonny Eagle. On the road makes it sweeter. I hope this is a big confidence boost. It’s a very sweet win. A great win for the kids. They worked so hard. I’m glad they won a big game. I was crossing my fingers.”
While Monday was Martin Luther King Day and Inauguration Day, it also featured several local basketball matchups, with South Portland at Bonny Eagle the crown jewel.
Each team had won 10 of its first 12 this winter.
The Scots, who were ousted on a buzzer beater in the regional final last season, opened 2012-13 with a 65-53 home victory over Sanford, then downed host Massabesic (68-41) and visiting Thornton Academy (62-29), before losing a tough one at Portland (55-52). After handling visiting Gorham, 78-64, Bonny Eagle stunned host Deering and avenged its playoff loss, 45-44, on a late 3-pointer from senior C.J. Autry. The Scots then won at Cheverus (69-48) and at home over Noble (76-39). After being upset at Westbrook, 53-50, Bonny Eagle defeated visiting Marshwood (57-47), visiting Windham (61-47) and host Kennebunk (87-57). In that one, Cole scored a new school record 50 points, including the 1,000th of his stellar career.
The Red Riots, meanwhile, handled visiting Windham (56-39), host Biddeford (68-43) and visiting Westbrook (54-36) to start, then edged host Thornton Academy (56-54) and downed visiting Kennebunk (69-39) and Massabesic (62-41) to close 2012. In its 2013 opener, South Portland enjoyed a 76-55 win at Scarborough, but couldn’t hold a late lead and fell at home to defending champion Deering in overtime (58-52). The Red Riots got back in the win column, 56-43, over visiting Sanford, then lost at Portland, 63-47. South Portland bounced right back with wins over visiting Marshwood (64-48) and host Gorham (62-48).
Monday, the Red Riots were on the verge of a fourth straight loss to Bonny Eagle, but managed to overcome and find a way to make a huge statement.
After Cole was honored for his milestone in a pregame ceremony, the first period featured an exciting, up-and-down pace with the hosts shooting the lights out and the visitors managing to hold on for dear life.
South Portland scored first when Burkey drained a fadeaway jumper 18 seconds in, but Scots sophomore Nick Dubay then came to life, taking a pass from Cole and sinking a 3, as he was just getting started.
After the Red Riots went back on top, 4-3, when Hyland fed Tolan for a layup, Dubay made another 3. Tolan (set up by senior Trevor Borelli) tied the score with a layup before Dubay nailed another 3 (assisted by Cole). Tolan hit a jumper, but with 4:56 to go in the first, Cole again found Dubay, who for the fourth time, was true on a 3-ball. The next time down the floor, the Scots got another 3, this one from Malloy (which was assisted by Dubay) to take a 15-8 advantage.
After Borelli made a free throw, the 3-point parade continued for Bonny Eagle as Malloy (from Dubay) did the honors to give the Scots their biggest lead of the game, 18-9.
The Red Riots persevered, however, and got a leaner from Muller and a 3-ball from Hyland.
Then, with 1:04 left in the quarter, Dubay took a pass from Autry and canned his fifth 3 in as many tries. Muller made two foul shots to pull South Portland back within five, 21-16, heading for the second.
In the first eight minutes, the Scots made seven field goals and every one of them was from behind the arc.
“I wasn’t happy at all,” said Hyland. “But we got settled down. We were still in the game. That was a good sign. From there, we fought, fought, fought and got the score to turn our way.”
It would take Bonny Eagle over four minutes to make a field goal in the second period and South Portland continued to chip away at its deficit.
After Malloy started the second period with a free throw, Hyland made a layup after a steal, then pulled up and knocked down a 3. With 3:56 left before halftime, Burkey and Muller did a nice job working the high-low, with Burkey hitting Muller for a layup, which put the Red Riots back on top, 24-23.
Twenty-six seconds later, the Scots scored their first two-point field goal of the night as Cole banked home a runner and the next time down the floor, Cole drained a long 3 while being fouled and added a free throw for the rarely-seen four-point play. Cole scored six points in 17 seconds and gave his team a 29-24 advantage.
The next nine points would go to South Portland however, as Burkey hit a leaner, Hyland tied the score with a 3, Tolan sank two foul shots and Tolan scored on a putback just inside the final minute to make it 33-29 Red Riots.
When Cole converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw), it looked like Bonny Eagle would only be down one at halftime, but as time expired, in a harbinger of what was to come later in the afternoon, Hyland beat the buzzer with 3 from just inside the halfcourt stripe to cap a superb quarter and give South Portland a 36-32 advantage at the break.
Hyland scored 11 points in the second quarter and had 14 in the half, while Dubay led all scorers with 15 and Cole had nine.
The Scots had cooled off from behind the 3-point arc, however.
Bonny Eagle coach Phil Bourassa said that his team’s early sharpshooting lulled it into a false since of security.
“It concerns you because (when you’re making outside shots) you start watching shots instead of attacking the offensive glass,” Bourassa said. “We struggled to get second-chance points. I think in the long run, it hurt us.”
South Portland had adjusted.
“What we had to do was switch our defense up,” said Conley. “We were playing a man zone. We had to make an adjustment with a kid that hot. We went to straight man. The kids did a great job. Against a great team like Bonny Eagle who has four scorers, you’ll give up a shot here and there. It’s a game of runs and we had to keep our composure and play.”
Neither team led by more than four points in a third period which saw three lead changes.
After Cole hit two foul shots, Burkey found Tolan for a layup. Cole then hit a leaner and a contested 3 to put the Scots back on top, 39-38.
After MacVane took a pass from Tolan and made a layup to give South Portland the lead back, Muller added a free throw, but Malloy found senior Kyle Wright for a layup to tie the score, 41-41.
The Red Riots retook the lead, 43-41, on a Muller bank shot at the 4 minute mark, but Cole found Malloy for a 3 and Cole scored on a driving layup. A late layup from Burkey pulled the Red Riots within a single point, 46-45, with eight minutes to go (or so we thought).
Much to the fans’ delight, the fourth period would be more of the same.
Nine seconds in, Cole made a free throw, but Burkey tied the score with a leaner off the glass. Malloy answered with a 3-ball, but seconds after returning from a spell on the bench, Hyland found Burkey, who calmly drained a 3 of his own to make it 50-50 with 5:24 to play.
Again, Bonny Eagle had the answer as Cole scored on a floater and Malloy (from Cole) sank a 3, but Tolan hit a leaner, Hyland found senior Calvin Carr for a layup and with 2:21 remaining, Tolan scored on a floater to put South Portland back in the lead, 56-55.
Fifteen seconds later, Cole went to the line and made both shots and after the Red Riots committed a rare turnover, Cole made two more free throws for a 59-56 advantage with 1:32 to play.
The Red Riots didn’t panic and pulled within one when Muller scored on a leaner 10 seconds later. He was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw which could have tied the contest.
With 53.7 seconds remaining, Cole made one of two free throws to stretch the lead to two. After Hyland missed two shots at the other end, two foul shots from Autry with 15.6 seconds showing gave Bonny Eagle a 62-58 advantage and an apparent victory, but Hyland saved his best for last.
With 6.1 seconds to go, Hyland knocked down a 3 to keep hope alive.
Cole was fouled on the inbounds pass (Carr fouled out in the process) and calmly made both free throws to push the lead back to three, 64-61.
Hyland then rushed up the floor and as time wound down, he pulled up and launched a 3 which appeared to have too much on it. Sure enough, the shot was long, but it kissed off the glass and into the net to tie the score, 64-64, and force overtime.
“We were down and I hit one,” said Hyland. “Then, I came down and I knew I was pulling it as soon as I had the ball. It happened to hit the backboard and go in. It felt good.”
“Great scorers, and I consider him a very good scorer, every now and then will make a shot like that,” said Conley. “When he did, I thought, ‘Just maybe, it’s the Riots’ night.'”
“Good players make plays and he did that,” lamented Bourassa.
South Portland appeared to have all the momentum heading into OT and the Red Riots scored first in the extra session on a Muller putback. With 1:11 remaining in the four-minute extra session, Burkey scored on a leaner in the lane for a 68-64 lead.
“Ben Burkey has really been coming on for us,” Conley said. “That’s a good sign because he’s a very good basketball player. When he plays well, we’re that much better. He’s getting his confidence. It’s a good sight to see. He came up huge.”
The Scots came right back and cut the deficit to one when Dubay (from Cole) hit a 3, his first points since his first quarter flurry.
After McVane missed the front end of a one-and-one, Cole missed a jumper which could have put Bonny Eagle ahead. MacVane was fouled again and this time drained one of two attempts a to make it 69-67 with 35.9 seconds showing.
Then, with just 14.5 seconds to go, Malloy went to the line and made both shots to tie the game again, 69-69.
South Portland would have a chance to win it, but with 2.9 seconds remaining, Burkey’s pullup baseline jumper was off the mark and the ball went out of bounds to the Scots.
Bonny Eagle threw a pass to midcourt and called timeout, but after Malloy took an inbounds pass from Cole, he couldn’t get a shot off and it was on to the second overtime.
“We didn’t do a good job on the foul line,” Conley said. “We rimmed a few out. We had to put that team away up four.”
After the Scots missed three shots early in the new OT, Borelli made two free throws. Dubay put the hosts back on top with a 3, but Muller answered with two foul shots. After Bonny Eagle retook the lead on a layup from sophomore Zach Dubiel, a Muller layup (from Burkey) gave the Red Riots the lead for good, 75-74, with 2:13 to go.
“I don’t do much,” Muller said. “These guys just get me the ball. We run a great offense with all the size we have. Especially against (Bonny Eagle which doesn’t have size). We just moved the ball around and got it down low.”
“What I’m most proud about is we’ve been preaching all year that if we get the ball inside and we go inside-out, we’ll be a tough team to match up against,” Conley said. “The guys tonight did just that. We reversed the ball, got the ball inside and our bigs did a great job. They were outstanding. I tell Conner and Jaren and all the guys, there will be different starting lineups throughout the year. I say don’t hang your heads since eight or nine guys go into most games and we see from there. They came ready to play and I’m really proud.”
After Cole missed, Burkey did the same, but a great hustle play by Burkey forced a held ball and the possession arrow went South Portland’s way. Borelli then came up huge, following Muller’s miss with a putback for a 77-74 advantage with 1:13 left.
“(Trevor) made a great basket,” said Conley. “Defensively, he’s a very, very good player. He’s quick and he’s strong. He was big for us.”
After Autry and Cole both missed 3s for the Scots, MacVane went to the line with 29.4 seconds showing and this time made both attempts for a 79-74 lead and a little breathing room.
“Tanner came up to me and talked to me,” said MacVane. “I felt confident and just hit them.”
The Scots refused to quit, as Dubay found Autry for a 3 with 16.8 seconds to go, but the inbounds pass came to Hyland, who was fouled and Hyland wasn’t about to miss in a key spot. His two free throws pushed the South Portland advantage to 81-77 with 12.7 seconds remaining.
Cole hoped to spark a comeback with long distance heroics of his own, but his 3 was off target and after Malloy got the offensive rebound, his shot was wild and out of bounds to the Red Riots.
Hyland was fouled again with 3.4 seconds left and after missing the first attempt, he sank his second and after 40 hard-fought, scintillating game minutes and a 102-minute real time passion play, South Portland had a stirring 82-77 victory.
“We dug deep and we stuck together,” said Hyland. “We played really well. We’ve been down before and came back. I think it shows a lot about our team right now. It was a lot of fun. I love big crowds and I like long games. It’s more time on the court to play.”
“We chipped away and not only am I proud of the offense, but I’m proud of them defensively,” Conley said. “I thought Hyland, Burkey, Carr, all of them, even though it was a very high scoring game, played good defense. After the early 3’s, all the shots were contested.
“Last year was last year and this is a different team. We didn’t talk about the playoff loss, but the guys knew. They were all there. There was a little something (extra about this game).”
Hyland led the Red Riots with 23 points, which included six 3-pointers.
Watching Hyland and Cole engage in their version of an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better struggle at both ends of the floor was alone worth the price of admission.
“We battled,” Hyland said. “We went back and forth all game and we came out on top today. We’re both probably 1-2 in the state at point guard. It’s fun because we know we’ll both go out and do what we can to have our team win. He beat me last year, but we got them today.”
Muller had 18 points, Tolan 16, Burkey 13, Borelli and MacVane five apiece and Carr two.
South Portland finished with a 42-33 advantage on the glass, as MacVane had a game-high 13 rebounds, Muller eight, Tolan six, Burkey five and Borelli and Hyland four apiece.
In the most amazing stat of the day, the Red Riots, in 40 action-packed minutes, in front of a rabid, partisan crowd, only committed nine turnovers.
South Portland wound up 17-of-26 from the free throw line.
For Bonny Eagle, Cole continued his brilliance with 28 points.
“You’re not going to shut Cole down, but you have to hold him to around 20 points,” Conley said. “He always has the ball in his hands. He takes a lot of shots. He’s one of the best players in the league. You have to try to contain him.”
Dubay had 21 points on seven 3-pointers, Malloy 18 points, Autry six and Dubiel and Wright two each. In all, 15 of the Scots’ 22 made field goals came from 3-point range. Dubiel led Bonny Eagle with eight rebounds, while Dubay had seven and Autry, Malloy and senior Jon Thomas (who fouled out) five apiece. The Scots only committed only nine turnovers and sank 18-of-22 free throws.
“It was tough,” said Bourassa. “We certainly looked like we had it. Our best rebounder was off the floor for the eight minutes of the overtime.”
Bonny Eagle is now fourth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings. The Scots still have a very good chance to finish with one of the league’s best records. Bonny Eagle is at Gorham Friday, hosts Biddeford and visits Scarborough next week, then closes with a home rematch with Westbrook and a trip to Windham.
“There’s a lot of good teams,” Bourassa said. “Every night if you don’t come to play, you can get beat by anybody in this league. We have to try and build some momentum here. It’s back to the drawing board tomorrow.”
South Portland (now tied for first with Deering) is back in action Friday (8 p.m. start) at home versus a Cheverus squad which is desperate for a victory.
“Cheverus needs a win to get in,” Conley said. “We know we can’t letdown. They’ll come at us.”
After going to Deering Tuesday of next week, the Red Riots play at Noble, host Portland and finish at Cheverus.
“We have to work on foul shots and play as a team,” MacVane said. “We have to get the ball in and out and shoot 3s. We have a big size advantage this year. Our bigs are better than other teams’ bigs.”
“We have to keep doing the same thing we did today,” Muller said. “Play all out all game. We played good defense today. We know we can play with Deering. We have the defense to shut down Portland.”
“We’re going to be here at the end of the year,” Hyland said. “We know we beat Deering, even if the stats say we didn’t. Portland gave us a good game and outplayed us, but we have them at our court coming up. All that matters is playoff time.”
“We have to take care of business,” Conley added. “One game at a time is the approach we’ve had this year. In the SMAA, you have to bring your ‘A’ game every night.”
SP- 16 20 9 19 5 13- 82
BE- 21 11 14 18 5 8- 77
SP- Hyland 7-3-23, Muller 6-6-18, Tolan 7-2-16, Burkey 6-0-13, , Borelli 1-3-5, MacVane 1-3-5, Carr 1-0-2
BE- Cole 7-12-28, Bubay 7-0-21, Malloy 5-3-18, Autry 1-3-6, Dubiel 1-0-2, Wright 1-0-2
SP (7) Hyland 6, Burkey 1
BE (15) Bubay 7, Malloy 5, Cole 2, Autry 1
SP (42) MacVane 13, Muller 8, Tolan 6, Burkey 5, Borelli, Hyland 4, Carr 2
BE (33) Dubiel 8, Bubay 7, Autry, Malloy, Thomas 5, Wright 2, Cole 1
SP (1) Hyland 1
BE (3) Bubay 2, Thomas 1
SP (2) Carr, MacVane 1
BE (1) Thomas 1