Kevin Rugabirwa and the rest of the Portland High boys’ basketball team showed they are ready for tournament action in Thursday night’s Class AA North quarterfinal.

Third-seeded Portland (15-4) put on an aggressive trapping defense, forced the pace and dominated No. 6 Edward Little 70-30 at the Portland Expo. Rugabirwa scored 30 points – 11 in a 15-3 first quarter and nine more on three 3-pointers in the second – as the Bulldogs took a 36-13 halftime lead. Overall, Rugabirwa made 7 of 9 3-pointers, including his final six.

“When I get hot, Coach finds me and I just keep making shots,” Rugabirwa said.

Senior guards Rugabirwa and Pepito Girumugisha, along with new starter James Johnson, set the tone defensively with their on-ball pressure and matching up with Edward Little’s top scorers, Marshall Adams and Eli St. Laurent. Center Jeissy Khamis (10 points) and power forward Cordell Jones (8 points) controlled the boards and controlled EL center Ding Maiwen (10 points). Johnson (five points) made the start because junior wing Drew Veilleux suffered a season-ending knee injury in the last regular-season game.

“We didn’t want their three best players doing all the work so we wanted to press to make them have to use everybody, including their bench,” said Portland Coach Joe Russo. “I was hoping to wear them down. To be honest with you, I didn’t think we’d have a 15-, 20-point lead. I just thought four quarters of us playing five-on-five basketball (was better).”

Adams, a Mr. Maine basketball semifinalist, finished with nine points but didn’t have a bucket until Portland had extended its lead to 41-13. Meanwhile, Girumugisha shut out St. Laurent.


“I was just face-guarding him,” Rugabirwa said of his assignment on Adams. “He’s a pretty good shooter, a tremendous player. He’s one of the top guys in AA. I respect him and his father, their coach.”

Edward Little was never comfortable in its half-court offense. Coach Mike Adams said he knew his club, which finished 5-14 and had lost to Portland twice in the regular season, including a 79-48 setback at the Expo, was facing an uphill battle. But coming off what he called “our best week of practice leading up to this game,” he said he was “blindsided” by the large point differential.

“We really struggled in the halfcourt offensively,” Adams said. “And if you can’t score, that puts less pressure on your opponent. They’re a good team and Kevin’s a really good player. But when we’re not scoring, there’s less pressure on you.”

Now Portland, the defending AA North champion, advances to next Thursday’s 2 p.m. regional semifinal at the Cross Insurance Arena against the winner of Friday’s No. 7 Bangor (1-17) at No. 2 Cheverus (15-3) quarterfinal. Cheverus beat Portland twice this season.

“Last year we lost to Oxford Hills and Lewiston twice during the regular season, beat them both in the playoffs. So there’s hope for us,” Russo said. “Cheverus is a very good team, very versatile. They have to get by Bangor first. You never know.”

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