PORTLAND – It took Portland and Deering 3½ quarters to produce any kind of offense in their much-anticipated meeting Thursday night.
In the end, Portland didn’t care how many points were scored, as long as it had the most.
The Bulldogs ended a two-game losing streak with a 44-37 victory in an SMAA boys’ basketball game before a large crowd at the Portland Expo.
No lead is safe when these rivals get together. The Bulldogs (11-2), ranked third in Western Class A, spurted just before halftime and early in the third quarter to open a double-digit lead.
Portland held a 13-point lead early in the fourth and an 11-point lead with 1:32 remaining, but Deering, the defending Class A champion, as expected wouldn’t go quietly.
The top-ranked Rams (12-2) whittled the lead to five with a 3-pointer and a three-point play.
Three points from the line by Portland made it an eight-point game with just under a minute remaining, but a three-point play by Labson Abwoch of Deering and a couple of missed 3-pointers by the Rams kept Portland on edge.
Had either fallen, it would have been a one-possession game.
It was the first meeting of the regular season between the teams. They’ll meet again on the final night of the regular season, Feb. 8.
“It was nice to finally get a victory against the No. 1 team in Western Maine after a couple of tough losses,” said Portland Coach Joe Russo. “It’s a credit to our kids. We didn’t shoot great from the line but we were making 1 of 2 in the fourth quarter, which helped.”
Tough defense by both teams, with every possession contested, contributed to the low score.
“It was a battle inside against Labson Abwoch and Thiwat Thiwat of Deering,” said Portland’s 6-foot-3 forward, Nate Smart.
Smart and 6-5 center Matt Talbot went head to head against the Rams’ big men.
“We went at it the entire game. The referees were letting us play a little bit,” Smart said
The defense had a hand in the number of turnovers. Deering finished with 21 and Portland had 14.
Deering had the edge in rebounding, 26-24.
The Bulldogs led 20-14 at halftime.
Smart hit a 3-pointer, then made a circus shot in the lane to start the second half. Following a Deering timeout, Ahmed Ahmed scored for the Rams, but Talbot hit a 3-pointer from the side to make it 28-16.
The Bulldogs entered the fourth with a 12-point advantage.
The fourth quarter has been Portland’s downfall in its two losses, to Thornton Academy and Westbrook. When Ahmed Ali hit a 3-pointer for Deering to start the quarter, were the Bulldogs concerned?
“Not tonight,” said Smart. “We had the look. Scoring has been our problem in the fourth quarter.”
Smart scored after Ahmed’s 3-pointer. He took a long pass from Justin Zukowski for a layup.
“That was a big basket,” said Smart.
“This win feels great. We started out the season real hot, then a couple of guys got sick and missed practice. We needed this game to get out of our little funk.”
Deering Coach Dan LeGage said his team’s offense didn’t find its rhythm until midway through the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t get into a good flow and dug us a ditch,” he said. “A good part of our offense is interior. We didn’t get enough of that. We started playing with some energy and made some shots in the fourth quarter. We needed 32 minutes of that.
“Portland played hard. They were the preseason favorite; they had a veteran team back from the No. 2 seed last year. It’s Portland-Deering. It doesn’t matter what the records or seedings are. It’s always an emotional game.
Talbot led Portland with 11 points. Abwoch paced Deering with 13.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: