There’s a certain symmetry to Matt Talbot’s game.
“I couldn’t hit a shot in pregame,” Talbot said. “It’s been that way my whole high school career. If I can’t hit a shot before games, I shoot OK in the game. And if I’m shooting really well in warm-ups, I’m cold in games.”
His teammates’ pregame message? Keep clanging them early, big man.
Talbot, the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-6 center, shot 10 of 11 from the field Thursday night, scoring 24 points to lead unbeaten Portland to a 74-42 win over red-hot Sanford in an SMAA boys’ basketball game at the Expo.
With the win, the Bulldogs (14-0) regained the top ranking from Falmouth (11-1) in the Western Class A Heal points.
Among Portland’s recent notable wins: 69-60 at third-ranked Bonny Eagle on Jan. 4, and a 77-42 rout at No. 4 Deering on Jan. 17.
“We just ran into one of the best teams in the state,” Sanford Coach Paul Nolette said. “They’re athletic, quick, strong and well-coached. Talbot was phenomenal.”
Sanford (8-5), ranked sixth, came in on a seven-game win streak.
“We won by a fairly large margin but it didn’t seem that way,” Portland Coach Joe Russo said. “They won seven in a row and I can see why they did. Every time they got a little close, Matt hit one and that gave us that little edge.”
Portland, as is its way, came out running on offense and pressing on defense.
Travis Godbout hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key, Jayvon Pitts-Young hit the second of two free throws and Justin Zukowski (13 points) stole the ball and drove to the basket for a 6-0 lead, forcing Sanford into a timeout just 1:50 into the game.
“We just weren’t able to get it done,” Nolette said. “When you have a few early turnovers, and we did, the confidence factor goes down and momentum shifts.”
That point wasn’t lost on the Bulldogs.
“They’ve been on a run,” Russo said. “And we didn’t want them to come in here and believe in themselves.”
After the timeout Zukowski hit the first of his three 3-pointers to push it to 9-0. Josh Shroder (10 points) scored from the low post to make it 9-2. Talbot answered with his first of four 3s to push the Bulldogs’ lead to 10. Sanford’s John Morgan (14 points) and Portland’s Jayvon Pitts-Young (six points, eight steals and four assists) traded baskets to make it 14-4. Then Morgan and Shroder hit back-to-back baskets to cut it to 14-8, but that’s as close as the Spartans got. Portland closed the quarter on a 6-0 run to make it 20-11, then 37-21 at the half.
“We wanted to just hold them down the whole time,” said Portland guard Steve Alex (12 points), “and not let them get up.”
The Bulldogs pulled away in the third, opening with a 13-4 run sparked by two 3-pointers by Talbot to make it 48-25 with three minutes left in the period.
Talbot rotated out often enough to go 4 of 5 from beyond the 3-point stripe. He didn’t miss until midway through the fourth quarter.
“He’s just such a threat,” Zukowski said. “As a point guard, I just look for him no matter where he is. He can hit it from anywhere.”