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Portland boys down Cheverus to snap long skid

Bulldogs dominate in the paint to win, 63-48.

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Portland 63 Cheverus 48

C- 13 3 13 19- 48
P- 16 17 10 20- 63

C- Sanborn 4-5-13, Morrison 4-2-11, Nsengiyumva 3-3-10, Huntington 2-0-6, Knowles 2-0-4, Kelly 1-0-2, Levine 1-0-2

P- Smart 10-0-20, W. Donato 4-1-9, Mahan 2-3-8, Thea 2-3-7, Russell 1-3-5, Bouchard 1-2-4, Cross 2-0-4, Dowdell-Smith 1-0-2, Gerber 0-2-2, Kiala 1-0-2

C (4) Huntington 2, Morrison, Nsengiyumva 1
P (1) Mahan 1

C- 13
P- 16

C: 10-15
P: 14-24

SOUTH PORTLAND—Through the second half of December, from Christmas to New Year’s and through the first three weeks of the NFL playoffs, the win total of Portland’s boys’ basketball team was stuck on the number two.

Saturday afternoon, facing longtime rival Cheverus at Southern Maine Community College’s HUB Gymnasium, the Bulldogs finally managed to register their third victory and snapped a long skid in the process.

Thanks to sheer dominance in the paint.

Portland, less than 24 hours removed from a painful and disappointing loss at Oxford Hills, showed absolutely no rust in racing to a 16-8 advantage, as senior Stillman Mahan had six quick points.

The Stags pulled within 16-13 after one period and were only down 19-16 with 5:20 to go in the first half after a runner from junior Nolan Sanborn, but Cheverus would encounter a long dry spell and the Bulldogs took advantage.

With 6-foot-5 senior center Kevin Smart and 6-3 senior center Ethan Thea having their way inside, Portland closed the second quarter on a 14-0 run to take a commanding 33-16 advantage at the break.

Smart and Thea combined for 19 points and 12 rebounds in the first half.

The Bulldogs’ run eventually hit 18-0 before the Stags snapped a nearly eight-minute drought. Cheverus scored the final six points of the third quarter to cut a 20-point deficit to 43-29.

The Stags managed to draw within 10 in the fourth period, but Portland wasn’t about to let a victory slip away and scored the game’s final five points to prevail, 63-48.

Smart led the way with 20 points and 16 rebounds as Portland improved to 3-11 on the season, dropping Cheverus to 4-11 in the process.

“I almost forgot what a win feels like,” said longtime Bulldogs’ coach Joe Russo. “I give the kids all the credit. A win energizes us.”

Back to the future

Saturday wasn’t the first time Cheverus and Portland squared off at SMCC. One of the most highly anticipated games this century, and one which lived up to the hype, occurred there Feb. 16, 2004, when the Bulldogs and Stags each entered unbeaten and after an overtime thriller, Cheverus remained perfect by virtue of a 52-50 victory. Portland got the last laugh, however, beating the Stags in the regional final en route to the state championship.

The teams also met at SMCC on Jan. 30, 2013 in a contest nowhere near as dramatic (won by the Bulldogs, 63-29).

Portland has had Cheverus’ number in recent seasons, winning seven in a row and 12 out of 13, prior to the Stags’ 53-50 come-from-behind victory at the Expo last winter.

This season has been a struggle for both programs.

Portland opened with a 57-41 home loss to defending Class AA champion Bangor, then gained some optimism with victories at Windham (55-54) and at home over Oxford Hills (56-43), but heading into Saturday, the Bulldogs hadn’t won since. Their skid began with a 52-48 setback at Scarborough and continued against visiting Edward Little (55-48), host Cheverus (65-48), host Lewiston (49-46), visiting Deering (50-49), visiting South Portland (48-31), host Bangor (49-36), visiting Gorham (49-40), host Thornton Academy (68-46) and host Oxford Hills (35-31)

As for Cheverus, which has been hindered by the absence of injured senior Nick Galli for most of the season, its season began with losses at Lewiston (64-54), Scarborough (64-58) and Edward Little (73-64). The Stags then downed visiting Oxford Hills (55-50), Massabesic (68-48) and Portland (65-48) to close the 2019 portion of their schedule. When the new year began, however, Cheverus was beaten at Deering (75-59), at Bangor (63-42), at home by Thornton Academy (74-66) and at Windham (46-37). After a 63-53 overtime home win over Lewiston, the Stags fell at South Portland (61-47) and Oxford Hills (56-41) and Friday night, lost at home to Deering (?-?).

Cheverus’ victory in the teams’ first meeting Dec. 23, cut the Bulldogs’ all-time lead in the series, which dates to Jan. 16, 1925, to 96-92.

Saturday, the Stags sought their first season sweep over Portland since the 2010-11 campaign, but it wasn’t to be, as for the first time since Dec. 13, the Bulldogs got to celebrate a victory.

While Portland only managed 31 points Friday night, the Bulldogs posted more than half of that amount in the first period Saturday.

Just 34 seconds in, Mahan set the tone, scoring on a layup while being fouled, then adding the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play, giving Portland a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

After Cheverus got its first points on a floater from Sanborn which banked home, junior Jacob Bouchard made a bank shot of his own for a 5-2 Bulldogs’ lead.

Junior Dylan Morrison made a layup for the Stags, but a putback from senior Matthew Dowell-Smith put Portland back up by three.

After Sanborn made a free throw, sophomore Wani Donato’s runner made it 9-5 Portland.

Sanborn converted a three-point play for Cheverus, but Mahan sank a 3.

Smart then entered play and quickly made his presence felt with a driving layup and a putback for a 16-8 advantage.

The Stags finished the frame strong, as sophomore Seth Huntington drained a 3-point shot and Morrison fed senior Macklin Kelly for a layup which cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 16-13.

Cheverus got a free throw from sophomore Bryant Nsengiyumva to start the second quarter, but Thea made a free throw, then Smart scored on a jump hook in the lane for a 19-14 Portland advantage.

With 5:20 to go before halftime, Sanborn scored on a runner, but the Stags would soon go ice cold.

At the other end, Smart scored on a putback, then Thea did the same. After a driving layup from Smart, Smart converted a three-point play to give the Bulldogs a double digit lead, 28-16.

Portland kept the pedal to the metal the rest of the half, as Smart scored on a floater in the lane, Thea hit a free throw and after a steal from junior Sam Gerber, sophomore Spencer Cross made a layup for a 33-16 Bulldogs’ advantage at the break.

In the first 16 minutes, the Bulldogs had a 21-7 rebounding edge, Smart led the way with 12 points and seven rebounds, while Thea added seven points and five boards.

“We had an advantage in the post and we wanted to take advantage of it,” Russo said.

Sanborn paced Cheverus with eight first half points.

Portland kept the pressure on in the third quarter.

A pair of free throws from Mahan and a putback from Smart began the second half and gave the Bulldogs their biggest lead.

With 5:28 left in the frame, a 3-point shot from Nsengiyumva snapped the Stags’ 7:52 drought and Portland’s 18-0 run, but Donato countered with a putback.

Senior Luke Knowles and Morrison made layups for Cheverus, but a Smart putback and a Smart leaner put the Bulldogs up by 20, 43-23.

Cheverus got a little life late in the quarter, as Sanborn made a free throw, Nsengiyumva sank two and Sanborn set up Huntington for a 3-point shot which pulled the Stags within 43-29.

Cheverus hoped to cut into the deficit in the final stanza, but never got within single digits.

Morrison opened the fourth period with a layup, but Bouchard made a free throw, then Donato scored on a putback to make it 46-31 with 5:52 to go.

Nsengiyumva countered with a layup after a steal, but Mahan set up Donato for a layup to restore the 15-point bulge.

After a Sanborn layup, Cross drove for a layup.

Sanborn made two free throws, but again Portland countered, as Smart scored on a leaner to make the score 52-37.

A pair of Morrison foul shots and a layup from Knowles after a steal pulled Cheverus within 11 with 2:49 left, but Gerber made two free throws and Bouchard added another.

After Nsengiyumva scored on a putback, Donato made a free throw, but with 1:02 remaining, Morrison’s 3 pulled the Stags within 10 points, 56-46.

Junior Gabriel Russell stemmed the tide with two free throws for the Bulldogs and Jose Kiala scored on a putback.

Cheverus’ final points came on a bank shot from senior Jamison Levine, the Portland closed out its 63-48 victory on a three-point play by Russell.

“It feels good,” Smart said. “The last time we won a game was quite awhile ago. We knew the game wasn’t over and we had another half, so we worked hard and tried to play like we did in the first half.”

“Last night was an emotional game and we didn’t pull it out because we didn’t shoot well,” Russo said. “Today before the game, I said, ‘Last night we lost because we missed shots, not because you didn’t work hard.’ I said, ‘Today, let’s go bust your chops.’ We kept it really simple. We knew (Cheverus) has great pressure. They have two great guards and I had to face-guard them.”

Smart stole the show with 20 points and a whopping 16 rebounds.

“I had to work extra-hard to score points and get boards,” Smart said. “I wanted to work hard so I could stay on the court.”

“Smart didn’t smart,” Russo said. “He didn’t do anything wrong. We just kept it simple and I didn’t want to have any hiccups in our fluency and that’s the reason.”

Donato added nine points, Mahan (seven rebounds, three assists, two steals) had eight, Thea (six boards) contributed seven, Russell had five, Bouchard and Cross each finished with four and Dowdell-Smith, Gerber and Kiala all had two.

The Bulldogs had an overwhelming 46-17 rebounding advantage, overcame 16 turnovers and made 14-of-24 foul shots.

Cheverus was paced by 13 points from Sanborn, 11 from Morrison and 10 from Nsengiyumva (who also had six rebounds and three steals). Huntington had six points, Knowles four and Kelly and Levine two apiece.

The Stags only turned the ball over 13 times and made 10-of-15 free throws, but couldn’t overcome a slow start.

“We haven’t shot the ball particularly well the past two days,” lamented Cheverus coach Ryan Soucie. “For us, obviously the interior game is an area of weakness. We went small and made a run in the second half, but we dug a hole in the first half. We didn’t rebound well. We held Smart off the glass the first time, but today, he really got in and rebounded. They wanted to win more than we did. In their mind, we handled them well the first time and they were hungry and that’s how they played.”

Nearing the end

Cheverus (sixth in the Class AA North Heal Points standings) is back in action Tuesday at home versus Bangor. The regular season concludes for the Stags the following week when they host Edward Little and Windham.

“Our last three games are at home against teams above us in the standings in our region, so there are a lot of (Heal Points) left on the table,” said Soucie. “We have to make shots, believe we can win and get stops and rebound the ball effectively. If we do that, anything can happen. Hopefully playing at home will allow us to get our confidence back.”

Portland (seventh in Class AA North) has four games left, two at home and two on the road.

Tuesday, the Bulldogs welcome Windham and Thursday, they play at Edward Little. Portland then hosts Lewiston and closes with a game at Deering.

“We don’t plan on ending here,” Smart said. “We plan on starting here. We’ll work as a unit and get better from here.”

“Even though there are only a few games left, the guys can live on this one,” Russo said. “When you lose, you have to find a way to keep the kids up. These guys haven’t quit. We have to be more consistent running our offense and limit our turnovers. We have to trust each other. We have some games we could pick up some (Heal Points).”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Recent Cheverus-Portland meetings

@ Cheverus 65 Portland 48

Portland 72 @ Cheverus 42
Cheverus 53 @ Portland 50

Portland 59 @ Cheverus 37
@ Portland 67 Cheverus 45

Portland 47 @ Cheverus 43
@ Portland 69 Cheverus 46

@ Portland 72 Cheverus 42
Portland 59 @ Cheverus 48

Portland 57 @ Cheverus 45
Cheverus 55 @ Portland 44 

@ Portland 55 Cheverus 46
Portland 64 @ Cheverus 53

Portland 73 @ Cheverus 49
Portland 63 Cheverus 29 @ SMCC

Cheverus 49 @ Portland 41
Portland 40 @ Cheverus 39

Cheverus 49 @ Portland 28
@ Cheverus 70 Portland 43
Western A semifinals
Cheverus 45 Portland 41

@ Cheverus 63 Portland 35
Cheverus 58 @ Portland 41

@ Cheverus 59 Portland 44
Cheverus 50 @ Portland 33

@ Cheverus 68 Portland 62
@ Portland 37 Cheverus 31
Western A semifinals
Cheverus 63 Portland 49

Cheverus 65 @ Portland 59
Portland 69 @ Cheverus 63
Western A Final
Portland 62 Cheverus 44

@ Cheverus 60 Portland 53
Cheverus 64 @ Portland 58
Western A semifinals
Portland 55 Cheverus 44

Cheverus 43 @ Portland 41

Cheverus 52 Portland 50 (OT) (@ SMCC)
Western A Final
Portland 68 Cheverus 52

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