Portland High basketball coach Joe Russo didn’t realize it took his team more than 10 minutes to score a basket in the second half. But he did know his two-time defending champs weren’t playing well and it had cost them the lead.

“We were flat as a pancake,” Russo said.

Then the previously silent Griffin Foley uncorked the basket with a step- back 3-pointer and Portland recovered to beat South Portland 62-53 in a game that tipped off at 8:40 p.m. Thursday at the Expo.

Both teams were ranked first in their Class AA division.

Portland is 9-0 and leads the North. South Portland is now 7-2 and atop the South.

“We showed some good resilience, and we came back and started playing hard again, but that’s not really the way you want to plan out your game,” Russo said.

The teams last met in last season’s state final, won by Portland, 60-38. Portland also beat the Red Riots in the 2016 state championship game, 52-50 in double overtime.

At the half, with Portland leading 31-19, it looked like another lopsided win was in the offing. Instead, Liam Coyne stepped up to score 16 of his 18 points in the second half to supplement Noah Malone’s game-high 24-point effort for South Portland.

When Coyne nailed a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter, South Portland had completed a comeback from a 12-point halftime deficit to take a 38-37 lead.

“It’s just about that state game leaving a taste in your mouth and we need to make sure we believe that we’re right there with them,” said South Portland Coach Kevin Millington.

“I don’t know if we thought that in the first half, but we learned in the second half that they’re great, they’re the champs and it’s going to be tough to beat them, but I think we have as good a chance as anybody.”

Pedro Fonseca got the lead back for the Bulldogs with two free throws. At that point, all eight of Portland’s second-half points had come at the line.

Then Foley hit his 3-pointer and Terion Moss (22 points) got inside for a three-point play for a 45-40 lead.

South Portland couldn’t get closer than four points the rest of the way. Foley executed a nice backdoor cut for a layup off a Moss pass and Simon Chadbourne (nine points, three 3s on three attempts) knocked down consecutive 3-pointers.

South Portland answered Chadbourne’s marksmanship with a 3 from Connor Buckley and Coyne’s third 3-pointer of the half, but over the final minute it was repeated and balancing trips to the foul line for both teams.

Moss got the Bulldogs started early, scoring six points and then dumping down a nifty assist to reserve forward Ben Fisher for a layup, and Portland led 8-2 quickly.

Malone did his part to keep South Portland close, scoring 15 first-half points with a variety of drives, fast-break layups and one 3-pointer in the second quarter. Trouble was, he wasn’t getting any offensive help while Moss (11 first-half points) had inside assistance from Fisher (seven points), with Fonseca and Manny Yugu each scoring four and contributing with rebounds and defense, respectively.

“We played an outstanding first half in all facets of the game,” said Russo. “We pressed, we rebounded, we played hard. The first half was a championship team.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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