SOUTH PORTLAND — Tony DiBiase was coaching another basketball team for the first time at Beal Gym, where he led the Red Riots for 17 seasons and to a Class A state title in 1992.
South Portland was hospitable to its former coach before and after, but as for the 32 minutes in between, the Riots had other things in mind. Led by 6-foot-5 center Jaren Muller, South Portland used its height advantage to pull away from Scarborough, DiBiase’s current team, for a 66-53 SMAA boys’ victory Tuesday night.
“It was good coming back,” said DiBiase. “I have a lot of great memories here. It was nice to see a lot of the fans. Beal Gym is such a great place to play. The atmosphere is still here. Of course, I work here so it’s not like I haven’t seen it before.”
Muller, the lone player returning from last season when the Riots advanced to the Class A state final, scored 25 points and hauled down 17 rebounds. He had plenty of help inside from a pair of sophomores – 6-foot-4 Jack Fiorini and 6-foot-3 Jordin Jackson. Fiorini scored 15 points and had 10 rebounds and Jackson had 18 rebounds and eight points.
It was size against quickness and size won.
The Riots (4-5) won their second straight after a four-game losing streak against good teams. The Riots are young with only two seniors, but improving. They looked pretty good handling Scarborough’s full-court press. The Riots stumbled at times against Scarborough’s pressure, but not enough to derail their win.
South Portland put the game away with a 10-2 spurt midway in the fourth quarter. The Riots worked some nice passing combinations inside. Muller started it with a basket. Jackson had a basket in the run and Fiorini scored a basket and two foul shots. The Riots outscored Scarborough (5-4) 18-11 in the final quarter.
“This was a great win for a young team,” said South Portland Coach Phil Conley.
“We knew going into the season that it would be a process for this group and that we would get better as the season went along. We showed tonight that we’re getting better. It was one of our better games. This group is maturing. We have two sophomores in Fiorini and Jackson who are playing big minutes. Scarborough was the quicker team and we were the bigger team. Whoever won that battle would win the game. We got a lot of second-chance opportunities and that was a huge difference in the game.”
Patrick Conley, the coach’s son and the team’s top outside threat, scored the Riots’ first basket on a 3-pointer to counter 3-pointers by Milani Hicks and Dan LeClair. Conley hit another 3 in the third quarter to put his team up by eight points. Muller scored to make it a 10-point lead.
“This was a huge win,” said Conley. “We didn’t start the game off great, but we knew we had to stick in and play tough. That’s what we did and we got the win. We did a better job of taking care of the ball in the second half.”
The South Portland school administration didn’t renew DiBiase’s basketball coaching contract after the 2006-2007 season. He continued as the varsity baseball coach, a position he niow holds at Portland.
After a short stint as a basketball assistant at St. Joseph’s College, DiBiase was the varsity coach at Gray-New Gloucester, and for the last two seasons at Scarborough. The two teams only play once in the regular season and last season’s game was at Scarborough. DiBiase still teaches physical education at South Portland High.
Matt Hartl led Scarborough with 15 points and Hicks added 13 and Nate Wessel had 12. The Red Storm led early and had their last lead at 29-28 just before halftime. The Red Storm cut the Riots’ 10-point lead in the third quarter to three before Kam Harper scored four straight points for the Riots.
Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at :