PORTLAND – A big crowd, a game between two longtime rivals. It added up to plenty of energy Friday night for Portland and South Portland at the Expo.
Portland appeared to have a little more and carried it for most of the game, improving to 10-0 with a convincing 63-47 victory in an SMAA boys’ basketball game.
Nate Smart got the Bulldogs off to a fast start with 12 of his team’s 16 first-quarter points. Justin Zukowski had eight points in the second half to keep Portland comfortably ahead.
The Bulldogs never trailed, leading by 12 at halftime and 13 entering the fourth quarter. The closest South Portland (8-2) got was nine points with 2:29 left.
That was after the Bulldogs stopped attacking the basket — a bad move, said Coach Joe Russo.
Portland led by 15 after five straight Smart points. The Red Riots called a timeout with 4:54 remaining and responded with six straight before Jayvon Pitts-Young hit two from the line and Zukowski scored to seal it.
Travis Godbout hit a 3-pointer from the corner to end it in style for the Bulldogs.
The game matched the first- and third-ranked teams in the Western Class A Heal point standings. The Riots lost for the second time in a week to one of the region’s elite, falling 58-52 in overtime to Deering on Tuesday night.
“I think we’re fortunate in the number of rivals we have almost within walking distance,” said Russo. “There’s a rich tradition in Greater Portland. It brings a natural energy. The kids really enjoy that.”
Smart fed off that energy by knocking down a pair of 3-pointers to open the game; he had 12 of the Bulldogs’ first 14 points.
Portland led 14-5 before Tanner Hyland of the Riots knocked down the first of his two 3-pointers.
The Bulldogs maintained control in the second quarter, going on an early 7-0 run:Nick Volger banked in a 3-pointer straight on, reserve Cosimo Donato hit two foul shots and Pitts-Young scored.
The Bulldogs got a strong contribution from their bench, none more evident than a hustle play Steve Alex made late in the half.
He went high to block a shot, then raced down the sideline to score a layup. Zukowski scored on a drive to end the half with Portland on top, 33-21.
South Portland played better in the second half, but not enough to make any serious inroads.
After being eliminated in last year’s quarterfinals by the Riots, the Bulldogs didn’t need a lot of motivation, even if their fans supplied it.
“We came out hungry after the way last season ended,” said Volger. “Everyone gets excited when we play South Portland. It’s the Battle of the Bridge. The crowd was definitely a factor.”
Volger played tough defense on Hyland, the South Portland standout who finished with 12 points. Hyland was held to one 3-pointer in the second half.
Smart went scoreless in the middle periods but had five points in the fourth to finish with a game-high 17.
Russo said he didn’t know what kind of game he would get out of Smart, who had been ill the previous two days. He got his answer right from the start.
Zukowski, who was contending with a bad back, added 10 points.
Russo said he wasn’t sure Zukowski would be able to play — another question that was quickly answered. Zukowski went into the middle of the tall Riots front line to score on a couple of drives.
Jack Tolan, the Riots’ 6-foot-7 center, played well inside against Portland’s height, finishing with 11 points.
The teams will play again next month at South Portland and you can be sure that one will have the same energy.
Portland-South Portland — they always do.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: