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Both Portal teams fall at ECI tourney
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    The Portal Panthers struggled to get anything going offensively Wednesday afternoon on Day 1 of the Emanuel County Institute Christmas Tournament. With 6.9 seconds remaining in the game, that struggle came back to haunt them.
    Trailing 60-57 to East Laurens, Thomas Busby's inbound pass was picked off and the Panthers (8-2) never got a chance to tie the game, losing for the second time in their last three contests.
    "We had a long layoff," said PHS head coach Jeff Brannan, whose Panthers hadn't played since a Dec. 16 win over Savannah Country Day. "I knew coming in that we were going to struggle a little bit. But you have to give East Laurens a lot of credit. They're very athletic and they presented us some problems on the defensive end."
    A Marquan Jackson 3-pointer with 17.3 left brought PHS to within two at 59-57. Falcon forward Terrance Lewis was then fouled and hit one of two free throws to push the lead to three before Portal turned the ball over in the final seconds.
    Fred Williams finished with a game-high 25 for PHS while junior Mario Farris added a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds. Ken Taylor led the Falcons with 21, Antwon Bailey had 15 and Jimmy Williams added 14.
    East Laurens took their first lead since early in the first quarter on a Taylor fast break layup, 44-42 with 1:11 left in the third. East Laurens would never trail again.
    Portal did come back to tie the game at 49, but a Jimmy Williams 3 from the left wing with 4:09 left in the fourth started an 8-2 ELHS run and PHS never recovered.
    Despite changing defenses to a 3-2 zone in the final period, Portal was still outscored 20-9 in the final frame.
    "We had gotten into a little foul trouble and we were trying to do something a little different," said Brannen. "But they're a well-coached team and they spread us out and we had to come back to man-to-man."
    Both teams traded baskets in the early going, including one-handed jams to get each other's respective fan bases into the game. Lewis' right-handed stuff on a breakaway was followed by Fred Williams' soaring slam off a Portal missed shot. The Falcons were held scoreless over the last 1:42 of the first and Portal held the lead until late in the third quarter.
    Farris picked up his second foul in the second quarter and was forced to spend some time on the bench. He would eventually foul out near the end of the contest, scoring eight of his 13 in the fourth quarter..
    The Panthers' lead stretched to six at 25-19 just before halftime, but Portal was held to just two field goals in the last 3:26 of the half. They took a 30-27 advantage into the break.
    East Laurens finished 8 of 17 from the line while the Panthers were 19-for-29. The Falcons turned the ball over 20 times (just twice in the fourth quarter) while PHS gave it away on 18 occasions.
    Portal returns to the court today to face Treutlen County at 3:30 p.m. while East Laurens draws Statesboro for a 5:30 p.m. tip-off.

Lady Falcons 52,
Lady Panthers 45
    The Lady Panthers of Portal came into Wednesday's contest down to nine girls due to the Holiday break. That didn't stop them from giving East Laurens all they could handle and more Wednesday at the ECI Christmas Tournament.
    The Lady Panthers led by as many as six late in the contest, but 14 fourth-quarter turnovers eventually did PHS in, and ELHS escaped with a 52-45 win.
    "All-in-all we played a pretty good game," said Portal head coach Earl Donaldson. "I was satisfied with the progress we made (tonight)."
    Missing point guard Sacona Sheffield, among others, PHS did just fine with the tandem of Mary Cox and Kanesha Eason filling in Sheffield's spot. Cox's 3 from the top of the key at the 7:35 mark of the third quarter gave PHS their first lead of the game. and she finished with 11 points. It was Eason, however, who kept Portal in the game throughout.
    "I was pleased with (Eason)," said Donaldson. "I told her that she was making a lot of progress and told her at the beginning of the game we needed to get more production out of her."
    Eason led Portal with 18 points, eight of which came from the free throw line and eight of which came during the third quarter.
    After Cox's 3 gave Portal a 23-21 lead, the Lady Falcons stormed back with a 7-0 run to go up 28-23. But PHS came right back with a 9-0 run of its own, finishing the quarter with a 32-28 advantage.
    East Laurens opened the fourth by forcing two straight PHS turnovers and Brandi Haynes converted those into four straight points to tie the game. The Panthers would come back with six straight for a 42-36 cushion, but the fun would stop there. The Lady Falcons ended the game on a 16-3 run to improve their record to 4-5.
    Haynes finished with a game-high 22 points. Jennifer Outler chipped in 16 and Cassandra Jones had 10 for ELHS. Bridgett Oglesby had 14 for the Lady Panthers while Destiny Oglesby pulled down 10 boards before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Portal turned the ball over 35 times.
    Chad Bishop can be reached at (912)-536-6184.