The game started three hours sooner than usual, but the early time didn’t bother Portland. The Bulldogs looked as proficient as always Thursday afternoon at the Portland Expo in rolling to a 63-46 boys’ basketball win over Deering, completing a perfect regular season.
The Bulldogs (18-0) will enter the Western Class A tournament as the top seed. That’s no surprise given the way they’ve played this season. Portland will take an unbeaten record into the postseason for the first time since the 1998-99 campaign, which ended in a state title. These current Bulldogs hope to do the same thing, but looming in their path is Falmouth and Bonny Eagle, the second- and third-ranked teams.
And further down the road there could be a possible matchup with defending state champion Hampden Academy, which has won 39 straight games.
Portland will take nothing for granted going into its quarterfinal next Saturday night at the Expo, even though the Bulldogs will be big favorites.
“You still have to play the games,” Portland Coach Joe Russo said after it was suggested that there’s a big discrepancy between the top three teams and the rest of the tournament field.
The game time was moved up from its usual 7 p.m. start because of an open house Thursday night for prospective incoming freshmen and their parents at Portland High.
“It was a little hard to get ready for a 4 p.m. game,” said Portland standout Justin Zukowski. “I don’t think that’s happened before.”
The Bulldogs went about their business as usual, however. Portland jumped out to a 9-2 lead, as Deering had a difficult time holding onto the ball against the Bulldogs’ press.
The lead was 13-7 after one quarter after Chhorda Chhorn of Deering hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Rams (12-6) made 13 turnovers in the quarter.
Portland ran off 10 unanswered points midway through the second quarter to lead 26-10. Zukowski started the run with a 3-pointer. Steve Alex scored on a drive, Zukowski hit the next two baskets, and Jayvon Pitts-Young made 1 of 2 from the line.
Jacob Coon scored to break Deering’s dry spell, but Alex finished off a three-point play with 2.2 seconds left in the half to make it 34-21.
Matt Talbot, the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-6 senior, led all scorers with 18 points – 13 in the third quarter.
“It’s fun,” said Talbot about going 18-0 in the regular season. “I think if we went 17-1 or 16-2 we would be ready for the tournament. We just want to keep playing the same way we’ve been playing.”
Talbot said the Bulldogs can’t afford to overlook any team in the tournament.
“A lot of teams are playing good basketball,” he said. “Teams put the regular season behind them and gear up for the tournament.”
Zukowski finished with 16 points, including nine in the second quarter.
Deering entered the game playing well, but for the second time this season the Rams were no match for the high-flying Bulldogs. Portland won 77-42 at Deering on Jan. 17.
The Rams committed 27 turnovers this time.
“We switched our press around a couple of times,” said Zukowski.
Deering has been troubled by turnovers at times this season.
“It’s something we’ve worked on and wanted to change for this game, but sometimes we get stubborn,” said Deering Coach Todd Wing. “This was a game we hoped to improve on that. We didn’t, so we have to move on and get ready for the tournament.”
Wing didn’t waste time pulling his starters when the Rams fell behind. He went with his second five halfway through the opening quarter.
“I thought I would go with a group whose strength is their energy,” said Wing.
“Maybe they would give us a shot. They played hard and embraced their role. That’s all you can ask for.”
Wing put his starting five back in and continued that pattern into the second half.
Ranked fourth in Western Class A going into the game, Deering will likely remain there, which could mean a quarterfinal matchup with fifth-ranked Thornton Academy. The Golden Trojans will play a preliminary game.
“It’s a new season. We’ll set our sights on our next game,” said Wing.
Ahmed Ahmed led Deering with 11 points, while Ben Williams had 10.
Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: