SOUTH PORTLAND — McAuley has embraced a more defensive style of play this season. Did it show in the second half Friday night.

After a back-and-forth first half, the Lions held South Portland to 11 points after the break to produce a 45-36 victory in a SMAA girls’ basketball game at Beal Gym.

“We don’t have the firepower we’ve had in past years so we’re focused on defense,” Coach Billy Goodman said. “That’s how we’re going to stay in every game. If the offense is there, it’s a bonus.”

McAuley (9-1) held a 33-19 edge in turnovers, including 9-3 in the crucial third quarter, to win its ninth straight after opening with a 37-34 loss at Thornton Academy.

It was the Lions’ second big victory in three days; the Lions avenged that loss Wednesday with a 29-25 win over Thornton.

“We came in off that big win and we wanted to keep up the intensity tonight,” guard Olivia Dalphonse said. “The first half we were adjusting. In the second half we came out and shut down their top offensive players.”

Center Jess Willerson led the Lions with 19 points. Dalphonse added 14.

Lydia Henderson and Megan Graff led the Red Riots with 14 points apiece. Maddie Hasson scored her seven points in the second period and finished with nine rebounds. Meaghan Doyle added eight rebounds as the Riots held a 33-19 edge on the boards.

“They’re a dangerous offensive team,” Goodman said. “I was concerned with getting back and stopping them in transition. All the girls on the floor played awesome defense. I’m proud of them.”

After McAuley led 27-26 at the half, Graff scored from the wing to give South Portland its fifth lead. McAuley then outscored the Riots 18-9 the rest of the way, including Graff’s 3-pointer in the final minute, well after the game was decided.

Emily Weisser and Ally Tillotson gave the Lions a boost, coming off the bench to close passing lanes to Hasson and Graff, and harass them every time they had the ball. Willerson made her 6-foot presence felt in the paint, challenging Holly Black and Doyle. But everything started with Dalphonse’s relentless work up high on Henderson.

“Lydia is a tremendous shooter and she proved it tonight,” Dalphonse said. “I just had to keep my feet moving and keep my hand in her face to keep her from shooting.”

The game opened at a furious pace and for a while it looked like the team with the last run would win. Graff scored from the wing in the opening moments and McAuley answered with eight straight. Graff put back a rebound of her own shot and Willerson’s shot went in off the glass before South Portland went on a 9-4 surge to close within 14-13 after one period.

Hasson and Henderson combined for South Portland’s points in the second quarter, with Hasson scoring twice on the fast break set up by turnovers and once on an inbounds play. Henderson, meanwhile, drained two of her four 3-pointers. The first pulled the Riots even at 23 with 2:35 to play in the half. McAuley countered with Willerson scoring six on three inside feeds from Dalphonse, a 3-pointer from Ayla Tarte and two late baskets from Weisser.

The second half offered hard lessons for the Riots (7-3).

“We just need to sit down and analyze what’s going wrong,” South Portland Coach Lynne Hasson said. “We really need to get back to offensive rebounding and all the little things that make great basketball teams. I hope the girls see how good we can be; we just need to keep working at it.”