South Portland’s Connor Buckley drives to the basket between Portland’s Griffin Foley, left, and Pedro Fonseca. Buckley scored a team-high 22 points in the win. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

In a rematch of the Class AA state championship game, South Portland gained some confidence and Portland hopes to learn from a loss.

The Red Riots beat the defending state champion Bulldogs 74-69 in an SMAA game Monday at the Portland Expo.

Portland Coach Joe Russo feels his team hasn’t played its best basketball of late and the loss could snap the Bulldogs (15-2) out of their slump.

South Portland Coach Kevin Millington feels the game is important for his Red Riots (14-3) because it proves they can beat the Bulldogs.

“For us, we haven’t got over the hump with Portland,” said Millington. “(With the win) we get some confidence. So this is huge for us.”

South Portland’s Ansel Stilley drives to the basket as Portland’s Thomas Joyce defends in Monday’s game in Portland. The Bulldogs lost for just the second time this season. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

South Portland’s triumph may not make up for the 52-50 double-overtime loss in the Class AA state championship last year, but certainly avenges the season-opening 61-54 loss to the Bulldogs.

The Red Riots took control of the game at the start of the second quarter. After five lead changes in the opening eight minutes, the sixth – when South Portland’s Ruay Bol hit a short jumper 15 seconds into the second – gave South Portland the lead for good.

That started a 7-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Riley Hasson, which gave the Red Riots a 22-16 lead. It was one of four 3-pointers in the second quarter, when South Portland outscored Portland 24-7 to take a 39-23 halftime lead.

Portland stopped the run with an Emmanuel Yugu free throw. But after a timeout, Connor Buckley canned a pair of 3-pointers in a 43-second span to expand the Red Riots lead to double digits, 28-17 with 5:07 left in the second quarter.

Buckley came off the bench to score 22 points, including four 3-pointers. Noah Malone finished with 16 points.

Buckley enjoyed his outing he moved to South Portland from Portland this year. He said that he has played with a few of the Bulldogs on AAU and travel teams, and Terion Moss and Griffin Foley are friends off the court.

South Portland’s Riley Hasson throws the ball down court over the outstretched arms of Griffin Foley as Charles Lyall, right, defends. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“I’m just trying to do anything it takes for my team to win a game,” Buckley said. “Sometimes that’s scoring and sometimes it’s defense. We have a real balanced team so anyone can do what I did tonight.”

South Portland’s lead grew to 18 points (41-23) on a Malone long jumper 38 seconds into the third, but the Bulldogs didn’t quit.

Moss, who finished with a game-high 25 points, hit back-to-back 3s and Foley connected on one of his own to cut the lead to four points (70-66) with 32.8 seconds left.

It was the closest the Bulldogs had been to South Portland since the score was 19-16 early in the second quarter.

But Buckley canned four free throws in the final 30 seconds to secure the win.