SACO — Portland sophomore Gemima Motema made quite an impression in her first high school game.

Motema scored 11 points and grabbed 18 rebounds while adding five blocks, four assists and four steals to lead the Bulldogs to a 39-30 season-opening win over Thornton Academy in an SMAA girls’ basketball game Saturday afternoon.

Motema came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Saturday was her first official game on American soil. She played with incredible aggressiveness and displayed elite athleticism with her speed and leaping ability.

“It was fun; (it was) a tough game. We kept going and we won,” said Motema. “The best part of (my game) is to make my shot and defense.”

Motema is joined by cousins Amanda and Davina Kabantu as newcomers not only to Portland, but to America. Amanda Kabantu scored nine points and Davina chipped in with six.

Motema has high expectations and a strong belief in her team, which is expected to be much improved after winning only three games last year. Motema’s arrival is a main reason for Portland’s optimism.

She certainly doesn’t lack confidence.

“I think we are going to win the championship,” said Motema.

Motema recognizes, though, that the Bulldogs have plenty of things to work on.

“(We need to improve on) defense and make our shots,” said Motema.

Portland Coach Gerry Corcoran sees a lot of room for improvement for his team and would rather not look too far ahead.

“We have a nice equation here for success. One game at a time. We talked about (what to clean up) in the locker room … practice on Monday,” said Corcoran.

Portland dominated the offensive glass in the first half, snatching 23 offensive rebounds compared to just five for Thornton Academy.

“We talked about (offensive rebounds) before the game and we definitely talked about it at halftime, that we felt like we were giving up too many second shots,” said Thornton Academy Coach Eric Marston.

Despite the large disparity in rebounds, Portland only led 21-15.

“The first thing we talked about at the half: we should be up 15, 16 points,” said Corcoran.

The Trojans made adjustments and held the Bulldogs to four offensive rebounds in the second half.

After falling behind by 10 with 2:37 left in the third quarter, Thornton cut the deficit to five with 2:59 remaining in the fourth.

“I’m very, very pleased with the effort. The effort was there,” said Marston.

Portland eventually put the game away with a 9-2 run.

“Basketball is nothing but a game of runs. Could we have been up 15 if we didn’t turn the ball over, ahead by 20 points? Maybe,” said Corcoran. “But we did turn it over. We missed a lot of layups, and those are the things we have to work on, but I was so impressed with our intensity on defense.

Free throws were an issue for both teams. Thornton Academy made just 11 of 20, while Portland shot 6 for 15.

Alex Hart led Thornton with 13 points.

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