SOUTH PORTLAND — Officially, the South Portland boys’ basketball team didn’t return any starters from last year’s Western Class A champion.
But the Red Riots did return sixth man Jaren Muller, who was just like a starter last season. His experience in big games last season should serve him well as the young Riots seek a tournament berth as the season progresses.
It showed Friday.
With soft hands and good inside moves, the 6-foot-5 Muller scored 33 points and grabbed 14 rebounds as South Portland beat Westbrook 61-53 in an SMAA boys’ basketball game Friday night at Beal Gym.
Muller has the bulk to outmuscle opponents inside and the soft shooting touch to score.
South Portland (2-1) led the entire game but Westbrook (0-3) stayed within striking distance after a slow start. The Blue Blazes, young like South Portland but without the go-to player like the Red Riots have, got within five points with two minutes left but couldn’t get any closer.
Muller, getting fouled inside, made four straight from the line in the waning moments to tuck it away. Muller said a key to the win was the play of the guards.
“Getting the guards acclimated early in the game was key,” he said. This is their third varsity game. They hit some big shots so their bigs couldn’t double me. Playing in big games last season helped me a lot. I know what I have to do and I’m trying to show the new guys.”
Muller scored 20 points in the first half, and all of the points were needed because the Blazes started to heat up in the second quarter.
Sophomore guard Moses Abwoch hit three 3-pointers in the quarter to help his team rebound from a six-point opening quarter and outscore South Portland 19-16 in the quarter to trail by four at the break.
Guards Patrick Conley, the coach’s son, and Kam Harper both had two 3-pointers for South Portland in the third quarter. A 3-pointer by Aquoi Alexander, his third of the quarter, cut the Riots’ lead to 41-39 late in the session, but the Riots spurted to lead by eight after three quarters.
“I was very impressed with how the kids battled tonight,” said South Portland Coach Phil Conley.
“They hung tough. Jaren Muller was huge. I thought the guards did a good job getting him the ball when he was open on the block. Patrick, Kam, Jacob (Brown) and Robert (Graff) all got the ball to Jaren. Kam and Patrick hit some big shots.
“We look to Muller to lead our offense. He is the only player who had varsity experience. He’s played some big minutes in big games. He knows what he has to do to have performances like this.”
Westbrook, which also has no returning starters, showed its inexperience by not being able to sustain runs and making turnovers when a basket or two could have changed the game’s complexion.
“It’s a game of runs. We’ve done that the last couple of games,” said Coach Mike Burke, in his first season with Westbrook.
“We have some young players who are going to make young players’ mistakes. We’re going to have to work on that and see what kind of product we can put on the court.”
Alexander got hot in the second half, hitting four 3-pointers. He led Westbrook with 24 points while Abwoch added 13 and Sean Jany had 10.
Alexander hit Westbrook’s first basket with 50 seconds left in the first quarter as the Riots led 13-6.
The Blazes spurted in the second quarter to cut it to 15-14, but Conley hit the first of his 3-pointers.
Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: