PORTLAND – Thornton Academy held off Portland in the closing seconds to pull out a 57-53 victory in an opening SMAA boys’ basketball game at the Portland Expo on Friday night.

The Trojans, who held a seven-point lead with exactly a minute left, sank three of six free throws during the final 21 seconds to clinch the victory.

Thornton Academy, which trailed by six points at the end of the second quarter, put together a solid second half to rally past the Bulldogs.

“It was an opening night ballgame where you’re going to make mistakes, and we (had) to figure out that everybody is playing for real now,” Thornton Academy Coach Bob Davis said. “We came alive in the second half, finally.”

James Ek, in his second season with the Trojans after transferring from Portland, scored a game-high 19 points. Andrew Shaw, a 6-foot-6 senior and the only player on the squad who played on its Class A state championship team two seasons ago, followed with 11 points. Justin Pollard added 10 points.

Mike Herrick led Portland with 16 points.

“We played a tremendous a first half, and we played an excellent end of the fourth quarter, but there was little bit of a lull in between,” Portland Coach Joe Russo said. “We kind of lost our intensity. We lost some of our decision-making (abilities). Inexperience will do that.”

The Bulldogs, who have only three seniors on the roster, started the second quarter by sinking their first five shots and held a 30-24 lead by the end of the first half.

The Trojans opened the second half with a 7-0 run to move into a 31-30 lead.

“Defensively, we talked more,” Davies said. “We rotated. We had our hands up. We boxed out a little better, and we rebounded. All around, defensively, in the second half, we played better than we did in the first half.”

With 10 seconds left in the third quarter, Thornton Academy moved into a 42-39 lead when Dakota Tarbox put in the rebound of a missed free throw for his only basket of the game.

The Trojans gradually opened up a seven-point lead before the Bulldogs rallied late.

Herrick and Nick Volger hit three-point shots 23 seconds apart as Portland pulled to within a point (54-53) with 37 seconds left.

The Bulldogs missed three shots during the final 21 seconds, and Thornton Academy was able to pull away from them for good.

“We had some good looks,” Russo said. “We ran the plays correctly. We just missed the shots.”

Russo, in his 21st season as Portland coach, was pleased with the way his young team battled down the stretch.

“Overall, I’m very pleased because I think we’ve got something to build upon,” he said. “It might be slow. But they are quality kids, and they fought hard tonight.”

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

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