Unbeaten Portland boys hold off SP in state game rematch

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Portland coach Joe Russo, along with senior Ben Fisher (14) and sophomore Richard Greenwood, react after Bulldogs junior Trey Ballew blocks a shot during the two-time defending Class AA champion’s 62-53 home win over rival South Portland Thursday night.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Portland 62 South Portland 53

SP- 6 13 16 18- 53
P- 17 14 5 26- 62

SP- Malone 7-9-24, Coyne 5-5-18, Lewis 2-1-5, Bijokta 1-0-3, Buckley 1-0-3

P- Moss 5-10-22, Chadbourne 3-0-9, Fonseca 2-4-8, Yugu 2-4-8, Fisher 3-1-7, Foley 2-1-6, Clarke 1-0-2

3-pointers:
SP (6) Coyne 3, Bijokta, Buckley 1, Malone 1
P (6) Chadbourne 3, Moss 2, Foley 1

Turnovers:
SP- 15
P- 10

Free throws
SP: 15-25
P: 20-29

PORTLAND—For one quarter, it was the 2017 state final all over again.

But for the rest of the evening, it was more like the 2016 finale and anytime that Portland and South Portland’s boys’ basketball teams square off, thoughts naturally turn to the next state game when the Bulldogs and Red Riots might just do battle again.

Thursday evening at the Portland Exposition Building, Portland, the two-time defending Class AA state champion, got eight first quarter points from senior standout Terion Moss to race to a 17-6 lead, but South Portland settled down and didn’t let the game get away.

The Red Riots, thanks to 15 points from senior Noah Malone, were down by 12 points, 31-19, going to the second half where they hit their stride, made a run to pull within a single point and entered the fourth quarter trailing by just two, 37-35.

When senior Liam Coyne opened the final stanza with a 3-pointer, South Portland had the lead, but Portland dug deep into its reservoir of championship heart and went ahead to stay on two free throws from junior Pedro Fonseca, who was unstoppable on the glass.

A key 3-pointer from senior Griffin Foley, an old-fashioned three-point play from Moss and a long-range 3-point shot from junior Simon Chadbourne helped the Bulldogs pull away late and they went on to a 62-53 victory.

Portland extended its two-year win streak to 13, improved to 9-0 and in the process, snapped South Portland’s six-game surge and dropped the Red Riots to 7-2 on the year.

“We played an outstanding first half in all facets of the game,” said longtime Bulldogs coach Joe Russo. “That’s as good as we can play, playing hard and playing together. We pressed, rebounded, manhandled them and played like a championship team. The second half, we came out and we were flat as a pancake and SP made a nice comeback. We were resilient, thankfully. We got the lead back and started playing hard again.” 

Collision course

The past two winters, the final teams standing in Class AA have been eventual champion Portland and South Portland. This season could very well feature the same state game pairing.

The Red Riots won their opener, 69-59, over visiting Cheverus, lost at defending Class A champion Greely (66-60), then got on a roll, downing visiting Scarborough (60-46), host Oxford Hills (53-49), host Sanford (82-42), visiting Massabesic (62-33), visiting Deering (64-50) and visiting Windham (72-63).

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, had passed all of their tests, opening with impressive victories over visiting Noble (101-43), host Windham (61-44), visiting Oxford Hills (66-50) and visiting Massabesic (86-43). After downing visiting Deering (53-34), Portland beat visiting Gorham (73-52), held on for a 78-70 victory at Edward Little, then rolled at Sanford (82-54).

The Bulldogs had won eight of the past 10 meetings (please see sidebar, below), including two of three a year ago to take a 123-102 all-time edge in the series which dates to the 1909-10 season.

Thursday, Portland did enough to post another ‘W.’

Moss was a factor right from the jump, as he hit a 3-pointer 62 seconds in, then drove for a reverse layup and a 5-0 lead.

After South Portland got on the board courtesy two foul shots from Malone, Moss answered with a free throw, then set up senior Ben Fisher for a layup and an 8-2 lead, forcing Red Riots coach Kevin Millington to call timeout.

Malone scored on a putback, but Fisher took a perfect feed from senior Griffin Foley and countered with a layup. After another Malone layup, Fonseca drove and banked home a shot, Chadbourne buried a 3-pointer from the corner and Moss scored on a putback for a 17-6 lead after one period.

In the first eight minutes, Moss had eight points and two steals to lead the Bulldogs, while Malone had all six points to keep South Portland within hailing distance.

The Red Riots started  the second period with a pair of free throws from Malone, but Moss hit another 3 for a 20-8 lead.

After junior Scott Lewis scored South Portland’s first non-Malone points, on a putback, senior Riley Hasson set up Malone for a layup. After Fisher drove for a layup, Malone sank a 3 and the Red Riots were within seven, 22-15.

Portland then opened it back up, as senior Manny Yugu made a jumper, then drove for a layup. After Malone drove the baseline for a layup, Fisher hit a foul shot. After a Hasson block, Coyne hit a bank shot for the visitors, but the Bulldogs got a fadeaway jumper from senior Quinn Clarke which rattled in, and with 33.4 seconds on the clock, a Fonseca putback made it 31-19 Portland at the break.

In the first half, Malone led all scorers with 15 points, but the rest of the team only managed four.

“Noah was pretty solid in the first half, but we didn’t get much other than that,” Millington said. “We were pretty poor on the glass. You can’t give Portland second and third chances.” 

Moss had 11 points and Fonseca grabbed seven rebounds for the Bulldogs.

In the third period, South Portland made things very interesting.

Lewis started the second half with a free throw, but Yugu hit two and Moss added another to push the lead to 12, 34-22.

The Red Riots then got a layup from Malone (set up by Lewis) and a corner 3 from Coyne. After Moss got a point back at the line, Malone made a free throw, then banked home a finger roll to make it a five-point game.

Moss got a point back at the line, but Coyne made two free throws and after a steal at one end by junior Tyree Bijokta, Bijokta hit a 3 at the other to make it a one-point contest.

It looked like it would stay that way going to the fourth, but as time expired, Moss was fouled by Bijokta and made one of two free throws for a 37-35 advantage.

That set the stage for a memorable fourth period.

Just 34 seconds in, Coyne floated in the air and drained a 3-point shot over Bellew for South Portland’s first lead, 38-37.

That lead lasted all of 74 seconds, as Fonseca made two foul shots with 6:12 to go.

With 5:47 on the clock, Foley hit his first shot of the night, a rainbow 3 from the corner, to make it 42-38.

After Coyne made a floater for the visitors, Moss drove and banked home a shot while being fouled and hit the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play and a five-point edge with 4:41 on the clock.

Coyne got a point back at the line, but with 3:37 to go, Fonseca made two more free throws.

Coyne sank a pair of foul shots with 3:12 on the clock, but 10 seconds later, Moss set up Foley for a layup and after a Coyne 3 rimmed out at one end, Chadbourne buried a 3-ball at the other to make it 52-43 with 2:21 remaining.

Senior Connor Buckley and Coyne then sandwiched 3s around another Chadbourne 3-ball and with 1:36 to play, the Red Riots were within six, 55-49.

After a five-second violation on Portland, South Portland had a chance to draw even closer, but Buckley missed a 3 and Fonseca got the rebound.

Then, with 1:10 to go, Moss made it a three-possession game with a pair of foul shots. 

After Malone made two free throws for the Red Riots, Moss hit two with 57.6 seconds on the clock for a 59-51 advantage.

Malone again went to the line and made a free throw, but Yugu countered with a pair.

With 30.4 seconds on the clock, Malone made a foul shot for South Portland’s final point. Seven seconds later, Foley hit a free throw and that brought the curtain down on Portland’s 62-53 triumph.

“Our first half, we came out strong,” Moss said. “We had a lot of energy. It was our intensity. We played fullcourt defense in the first half and hustled and got tips. We played them in states two times in a row and it felt like a state game again at first. We slowed down in the second half. We knew we had to pick up our intensity and energy like we did in the first half. We got on the same page.”

“We kept it together and talked on defense,” Fonseca said. “You win games by playing defense. We’ve had our ups-and-downs, but we put it together at crunch time.”

“I can’t figure out my team yet,” Russo added. “Thank God the season is a marathon. We beat the first place team from the South.

“Their halfcourt zone slowed us down. We did some things that worked. If I was (Coach Millington), I wouldn’t change a thing. He had the lead in the fourth quarter. We might not make those shots next time.” 

Moss set the tone with 22 points. Moss also had seven rebounds, three steals and two assists.

Chadbourne had three 3s for nine points.

Fonseca finished with eight points and also grabbed 11 rebounds.

“My role is to play defense and get rebounds,” Fonseca said. “I just know where the ball is going. I get to the spot and box out.” 

“Pedro doesn’t score a lot, but he does everything else,” Russo said. “We can’t play without his energy and rebounding.” 

Yugu also scored eight points, collected seven boards and had a pair of steals.

“(Pedro and Manny) the biggest part of our team,” said Moss. “They do all the dirty work, rebounding, getting loose balls.”

“Manny’s defense is phenomenal and he can score,” Russo said. “He doesn’t sulk when he’s out of the game. Pedro and Manny we can’t play without.” 

Fisher gave the Bulldogs some solid minutes off the bench and finished with seven points.

“Ben Fisher came in and played awesome off the bench,” Russo said. “He gave us a lift and if he didn’t, we might not have pulled it out.”

Foley added six points and Clarke wound up with two.

Portland had a 35-33 rebounding advantage, only turned the ball over 10 times and made 20 of 29 free throws.

South Portland was paced by Malone, who led all scorers with 24 points. He also had eight rebounds.

Coyne had a big second half and wound up with 18 points.

“Noah got to the basket,” Moss said. “He was a big reason why they stayed in the game. Liam too, making those 3s.” 

Lewis added five points and Bijokta and Buckley each finished with three. 

The Red Riots turned the ball over 15 times and made 15 of 25 free throws.

“We got them one-and-done in the second half,” Millington said. “We did a better job keeping them out of the paint. That’s how we got back in it. It’s weird being in different regions. It becomes a vanilla game. We play in the summer twice, we played them three times the past two years. There are no secrets. Last year’s state game left a bad taste in our mouths. We were there with them. We didn’t think that in the first half, but we learned that in the second half. They’re the champs and it will be tough to beat them, but we have as good a chance as anybody. I didn’t like how things went early, but I like how we’ve played the past five, six games. We’ve shared the ball well.”

Long way to go

The teams meet again Feb. 6 in South Portland and a third meeting on the big stage is a distinct possibility as well, but both squads still need to improve.

The Red Riots return to action Saturday at Bonny Eagle. They visit Deering Jan. 19, then play at Thornton Academy the following evening.

“It won’t get any easier,” Millington said. “We’ll see (Portland) again at our place and if we’re fortunate enough, we’ll get a third shot at them. We’ll be tested for the tournament.”

Portland looks to stay perfect Saturday at Scarborough. After traveling to Lewiston Monday, the Bulldogs are idle until Jan. 19, when they play at Cheverus.

“We still need to work on some things, like coming out strong in both halves,” Moss said. “There’s still room for improvement.”

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

Portland senior Manny Yugu and South Portland junior Jacob Milton meet in the air.

South Portland senior Noah Malone grabs a rebound over Portland junior Simon Chadbourne.

South Portland senior Liam Coyne launches for a shot.

Portland senior Griffin Foley goes up for a shot as South Portland junior Scott Lewis defends.

Portland senior Terion Moss handles the ball.

Portland junior Simon Chadbourne defends South Portland junior Scott Lewis.

Recent Portland-South Portland results

2016-17
Portland 61 @ South Portland 54 
South Portland 74 @ Portland 69
Class AA Final
Portland 60 South Portland 38

2015-16
@ Portland 75 South Portland 56
Portland 68 @ South Portland 38
Class AA Final
Portland 52 South Portland 50 (2 OT) 

2014-15
@ Portland 45 South Portland 43
@ South Portland 20 Portland 16 (OT)

2013-14
Portland 79 @ South Portland 49
@ Portland 64 South Portland 42 

2012-13
@ Portland 63 South Portland 47
@ South Portland 52 Portland 42
Western A semifinals
South Portland 49 Portland 41

2011-12
Portland 61 @ South Portland 57
@ Portland 52 South Portland 48
Western A quarterfinals
South Portland 39 Portland 37

2010-11
@ Portland 80 South Portland 71 (3 OT)
Portland 59 @ South Portland 54
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 69 South Portland 45

2009-10 
Portland 56 @ South Portland 49
@ Portland 49 South Portland 48

2008-09
@ South Portland 57 Portland 49
South Portland 56 @ Portland 51
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 72 South Portland 49

2007-08
@ Portland 65 South Portland 50
@ South Portland 67 Portland 57

2006-07
Portland 79 @ South Portland 76
@ Portland 53 South Portland 51

2005-06
Portland 75 @ South Portland 63
@ Portland 87 Portland 60

2004-05
@ Portland 71 South Portland 53
Portland 78 @ South Portland 58
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 58 South Portland 51

2003-04
Portland 98 @ South Portland 44
@ Portland 66 South Portland 29

2002-03
Portland 62 @ South Portland 36
@ Portland 59 South Portland 40

2001-02
@ Portland 65 South Portland 61
Portland 67 @ South Portland 52

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