SACO  — Down 10-2 five minutes into the game at Thornton Academy’s raucous and packed Linnell Gym, South Portland’s unbeaten season looked in danger.

Instead, the Red Riots went on a 24-3 tear that stretched well into the second quarter, then kept a strong Trojans team at arm’s length the rest of the way in Tuesday’s Class AA South 60-50 win.

South Portland senior Geremi Baez said he and his teammates were hearing it from the TA student section.

“That’s OK, they were into it as well but we’re only 20 feet away from them. We hear ’em,” Baez said. “And that revs us up a little bit. It’s good for us.”

South Portland improved to 15-0 and has likely wrapped up the top seed in the South. Coach Kevin Millington said he wasn’t surprised his team responded well.

“They haven’t been rattled all year by anything, on or off the court. They’re just even-keel.”

Thornton slipped to 12-3, with two losses to the Red Riots.

Baez, a 6-foot-3 forward, led a balanced attack with 15 points and did yeoman’s work battling against Thornton’s powerful 6-6 center Dylan Griffin (12 points), who had 22 points and 20 boards in South Portland’s 68-65 overtime win on Jan. 2.

Ryan Boles and Cade Carr each scored 10 points. South Portland had a 17-0 edge in bench points, led by sophomore Owen Maloney (eight points) and freshman guard Jaelen Jackson (seven points), both especially effective during South Portland’s first-half surge.

South Portland’s run was marked by its ability to crash the offensive boards and then find open teammates for in-tight finishes.

“We have athletic kids and really attack and go get the ball,” Millington said.

Thornton senior Jack Pyzynski scored 15 of his game-high 18 points in the first half, including a seven-point flurry in the final minute of the second quarter to get Thornton within 34-27 at the half. Payton Jones scored nine of his 14 in the fourth quarter when the Trojans tried to make a late rally.

Leading 53-42, South Portland started to try to work extra time off during each possession. That resulted in a series of turnovers that Jones turned into five free throws. Then, after a Baez layup, Pyzynski nailed a quick-draw 3-pointer with a minute to play to cut the lead to 55-50.

Two bang-bang calls went against Thornton in the final 35 seconds to derail any further comeback hopes. An apparent steal by Colby Lands was negated when Lands was bumped to the floor and when he rolled, was called for traveling. And, after a Thornton miss, Kobe Gaudette was called for an intentional foul with 16 seconds to play when trying to steal away a long rebound.

Boles calmly sank the two ensuing free throws, and with the extra possession, Baez wrapped things up with a layup.

“We’re just going to try to get better is what we’re going to do,” said Thornton Coach Bob Davies. “We’re not going to hang our heads about a regular-season game. We’re going to try to do the best we can and then in the playoffs, if we can match up with them again, hopefully, see if we can beat them.”

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