Even in this most unorthodox of boys’ basketball seasons, one thing remains undeniable: Having a size advantage helps.

South Portland used its advantage Saturday afternoon to defeat Deering for the second time in three days. The Red Riots broke open a close game with a 19-8 third-quarter run, then held off a Deering rally to prevail, 65-54, as 6-foot-6 forward Mayen Ayuel scored 19 points, 6-4 guard Owen Maloney added 12 and 6-8 reserve center J.P. Estrella finished with eight points and 10 rebounds.

“Our size helps us a lot,” said Ayuel, who grew up in South Portland, moved to Texas after the eighth grade, then returned this school year. “We can grab rebounds and help the guards out. The guards depend on us to get rebounds.”

Deering shot to an early 11-5 lead, thanks to six quick points from senior Mpore Semuhoza, the most experienced player on the team. But a Maloney jump shot pulled the Red Riots within 17-15 after one quarter.

Midway through the second quarter, a pair of free throws from Mekhi Bitjoka put South Portland ahead to stay, but the lead was only 32-29 at halftime.

The Red Riots, who committed 11 first-half turnovers, took much better care of the ball in the third quarter, not turning it over once. That steady play, combined with their size, allowed them to open a healthy lead.

After the Rams pulled within 35-34 on a 3-pointer from Mohamed Artan, South Portland closed the quarter on a 16-3 run, highlighted by a 3-pointer and a layup by Ayuel (the layup off a nice pass from Jaelen Jackson) and a putback from Estrella, who transferred from Scarborough this school year.

“We’re blessed to get Mayen back from Texas, and J.P. coming over from Scarborough, that’s a lot of size we didn’t have,” said Red Riots Coach Kevin Millington. “It’s great to see how Mayen and J.P. fit in. The good thing is that they’re both underclassmen, too.”

An Ayuel putback with just over 7 minutes to go gave South Portland its biggest advantage, 53-39, but Deering fought back, as Titayo Augusto hit a pair of 3-pointers from the corner and Semuhoza scored seven points in just over two minutes to cut the deficit to 59-54 with 1:40 to go.

After the Red Riots missed a pair of free throws, the Rams had a chance to make it a one-possession game but turned the ball over. South Portland closed it out with layups from Jackson and Alex Bambile and two free throws from Maloney.

“It’s really nice to be playing again,” said Maloney, who overcame early foul trouble. “We’re definitely out there to win, but we’re trying to work for next year, too.”

Deering was paced by Semuhoza, who had 19 points, and Augusto, who added 12.

“We came into the fourth quarter talking about trying to come back and playing through adversity and building character, and we made it fun at the end,” said Rams Coach Todd Wing. “It’s a gift to be between these lines this year. No matter the opponent, we’ll give it our all.”


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