Portland boys’ basketball coach Joe Russo said earlier this season that Oxford Hills was the team to beat in Class AA North.

Russo, and the rest of us, might have to rethink that.

The Bulldogs forced 24 turnovers and never let the Vikings get comfortable on their way to a 52-43 win Friday night at the Portland Expo.

Portland opened up a 25-13 halftime lead, then made plays on both ends of the floor after Oxford Hills got as close as seven in the fourth quarter to improve to 6-2.

“This means that we’re doing some good things,” said Russo. “We’re working hard, playing together and having fun. The teams we’re playing are good, but it’s hard to perform when you’re facing our defensive pressure for 32 minutes. We’re very excited about this victory.”

Each team turned the ball over seven times in the first quarter, but the Bulldogs held a 12-7 lead. Pepito Girumugisha came off the bench and scored five points, and Wani Donato had five, including a layup off the opening tip.

Oxford Hills (7-3) managed just six points in the second quarter and late free throws from Spencer Cross and Pitia Donato put Portland up by a dozen at the break.

The Vikings hoped to make a run to start the second half and got a couple layups from Teigan Pelletier, but the defense of Cross and Brady Toher prevented Oxford Hills from ever getting closer than 12 and the Bulldogs took a 35-22 advantage to the fourth quarter.

In the fourth, Pelletier, who had a game-high 20 points, tried to rally the Vikings. His two free throws with 1:41 remaining cut the deficit to 47-40, but Wani Donato answered with a free throw, then, after a Toher steal, Donato set up his brother, Pitia Donato, for a layup to clinch it.

“It’s our defense and our hustle that’s working for us,” said Toher. “Our team has grown so much and come together. Our intensity is just on another level right now.”

Wani Donato led Portland’s balanced attack with 12 points. Toher added nine, while Cross and Girumugisha finished with eight apiece.

“I thought we did two things really well tonight, we rebounded really well and we shot free throws, which we haven’t been doing,” said Russo. “We made some mental errors, but we were able to overcome them.”

The Vikings got 20 points from Pelletier and 13 from Eli Soehren, but were doomed in part by 24 turnovers.

“We played poorly in the first half and we just didn’t execute,” said Oxford Hills Coach Scott Graffam. “You can’t score 13 points in a half and hope to win at this level. Second half, we played really hard, like a typical Oxford Hills team.

“We get a little break before our next game. It’s doesn’t get any easier though. Mentally, I think we’re going to be OK. It’s just a question of executing.”


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