Portland High boys’ basketball coach Joe Russo spent the last couple of days watching a lot of video of his team’s next opponent, Bangor High. And, he said, “The more I watched, the worrier I got.”

With good reason. Top-ranked Bangor put all its skills on display Tuesday afternoon in defeating the fifth-ranked Bulldogs 61-41 in the Class AA North semifinals at Cross Insurance Arena. Senior forward Matt Fleming scored 21 points, senior guard Damien Vance scored 20 and the Rams’ defense disrupted the Bulldogs.

“They’re a quality team,” said Russo. “You have to cover all five guys. Every second. I mean, could we have beaten them? Yes, if we played flawless.”

Bangor (18-2) will play defending state champion Edward Little in the regional final at 6:30 p.m. Friday at CIA. Portland, which lost by six to Bangor on Dec. 21, finished 11-9.

Right from the start, Bangor’s size and length on defense bothered the Bulldogs, forcing them to start their offense about 5 feet deeper than they wanted and closing up the inside if the ball got there.

“We played as a team on both offense and defense,” said Bangor Coach Brad Libby. “And we really executed the way we strive every day to do it.”

Bangor never trailed after Fleming opened the scoring with a drive on the left baseline. And the Rams’ success all started on defense. Portland had seven turnovers in the first quarter, which ended with Bangor ahead 13-2.

“We were in the right position every time,” said Fleming, who has accepted a scholarship to play at West Point. “And we definitely made them struggle and demoralized their confidence some.”

Portland tried to hang tough, pulling within seven twice in the second quarter. But the Rams had an answer each time, especially Fleming and Vance. “We had a lot of nerves at the beginning and they started to go away,” said Fleming. “We just started to have fun.”

Vance scored 18 of his points in the second half, 11 in the fourth when Bangor pulled away.

“I’m hoping that we’re sending a little bit of a statement that Bangor basketball is back and that we’re going to be back for a long time,” said Bangor’s Libby. “And we’re going to continue to build it back up to where it was.”

And while Portland’s season ended in disappointment, Russo had nothing but praise for his team. Jeremiah Alado led Portland with 10 points and Pedro Fonseca had nine.

“We’re taking everything positive, as much as we like to win,” said Russo. “I’m bummed for the kids because we want to keep going. But I’m happy for them too because we got here and we competed.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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