Tough, hard-nosed defense is a great attribute for a basketball team to have. But at some point, you need to score some points.

Portland High (5-2), playing its first game since December 30, had plenty of defensive tenacity in Tuesday’s 45-36 Class AA win against Thornton Academy, holding the  Trojans (7-2) to 12 of 37 shooting and forcing 19 turnovers.

But it was the shooting stroke of 6-foot-3 sophomore Jeissy Khamis, who scored 12 of his game-high 16 points in the second half – including two key 3-pointers in a 12-4 run to open the fourth quarter that pushed Portland to an 11-point lead – that was the key difference.

The pivotal sequence in the deciding run was a five-point possession for the Bulldogs. Khamis ran the court and knocked down a corner 3-pointer and was fouled. Khamis’ free throw bounced high off the back rim and Portland’s Spencer Cross snuck around the box out to tip it in for a 45-34 lead.

“That was a huge play to give us a little bit of separation,” said Portland Coach Joe Russo.

Portland didn’t score over the final four-plus minutes but continued to defend well to close out the win.

“They played great team defense. Ball pressure. They got after it. That’s a good basketball team (and) they do it together,” said Thornton Coach Bob Davies.

Cross scored all nine of his points in the second half. Wani Donato added eight points.

Khamis missed his first four 3-point attempts. But he did contribute with six straight points in the third quarter, scoring on an offensive rebound, a smooth elbow jumper and then a coast-to-coast one-man fast break – an impressive move considering his youth and sturdy size.

“My first shot was an air-ball, so I knew I just needed to keep (taking) those shots,” Khamis said.

“One thing we do lack is a scorer and Jeissy brings that to the team,” Russo said.

Portland entered the game ranked fourth in AA North. Thornton was second in AA South, its only previous loss coming against unbeaten South Portland.

“This was a tremendous win for us because TA is a quality team. Just to regroup the way we did with the time off and then we’ve got to face a team as good as they are and I thought the kids played one heck of a defensive game because TA can light it up,” Russo said.

Thornton was led in scoring by William Davies, who finished with 11 points, after sitting most of the first half after picking up two quick fouls. Anthony Jones picked up some of the slack in the first half, scoring all nine of his points. Thornton led 19-18 at intermission.

The Trojans also played tight defense, forcing Portland into 19 turnovers. One difference was that Portland was able to turn some of its steals and good defensive rebounding into nine transition baskets.

“We played defense well. It’s just their defense turned into some really easy hoops,” Coach Davies said.

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