PORTLAND — Basketball games are never over after the first quarter, but this one was as out of reach for Portland as it could have been Wednesday night.
Cromwell outscored the Highlanders 25-2 in the opening eight minutes and never looked back in its 67-34 Shoreline Conference victory.
Nick Wright led Cromwell with 18 points and J.J. Tracy-Gavin and Naimir Heyliger also scored in double figures for the Panthers, who are off to a 3-0 start in the league.
“The scoreboard always matters,” Cromwell coach John Pinone said after his team won its fourth straight game to start the season. “In the first quarter we were aggressive, jumping into their passing lanes and getting easy buckets in transition, and we moved the ball well against their zone.”
Pinone was well aware that Portland coach Al Sokoloff made out a lineup without his top two guards, Grant Collins and Indomari Ellison. Both are sidelined with concussions, leaving Portland without a true motor, a lack of varsity experience and a rotation with several playing out of position.
“We tried to focus on having the players play within themselves. Small things, like play smart, play hard and play together,” Sokoloff said. “Control what you can, chip away, get two points and a stop, get two points and a stop, like chopping down a tree.”
Cromwell was too strong to take down at any point.
The Panthers’ height and athleticism made it impossible for Portland to get into a flow early and forced a host of turnovers with their pressure to set the tone from the opening tip. Cromwell scored the game’s first 10 points, led 11-0 before Portland could put a point on the board, and finished the quarter on a 14-1 run.
“After that we were just trying to win the next quarter,” said Pinone.
It didn’t happen — the Highlanders outscored the Panthers 15-14 in the second. Portland hit a three and sophomore Peter McNickle, playing in his first varsity game, followed with two more to close the gap to 14 midway through the quarter.
The Panthers responded by scoring 10 of the next 12 points and took a 39-17 lead into the break.
“Our level of intensity wasn’t there,” Pinone said. “It was mental stuff. We are still a work in progress, believe me.
“But I’m very happy with the way we moved the ball and we were unselfish, and that starts with our defense.”
Portland fell to 2-4 overall, 1-4 in the Shoreline.
“Cromwell is one of the very best teams in the state, regardless of size of school,” Sokoloff said. “Their team speed and length is tremendous. We did what we could.”
Cromwell plays Morgan in Clinton on Friday before hosting Valley Regional, one of the contenders in the Shoreline this winter, on Monday. Portland hosts Westbrook on Friday.