When it comes to milking the clock it is evident the Portal basketball team is not made up of a group of farmers.
The Panthers moved to within one game of making their first ever appearance in the Final Four of the boys Class A state basketball tournament as they held on down the stretch Thursday night to beat Atkinson County, 65-53, at Savannah State University.
Coach Jeff Brannen’s Panthers (23-8) will meet Terrell County (21-10) Saturday afternoon at 5:30 at SSU’s Tiger Arena for the right to advance to next week’s tournament at the Macon Centreplex.
The Green Wave advanced with a 71-41 win over Johnson County, outscoring the Trojans 40-10 in the final 12 minutes of the game.
Fred Williams scored 22 points and Mario Farris added 20 to lead the Panthers who led by as many as 18 points in the third quarter only to see the Rebels trim the lead to eight with two minutes to play.
It was not necessarily anything the Rebels were doing, but what Portal was not doing, namely taking better care of the basketball.
Brannen called time with 2:31 to play and his team holding a 10-point advantage at 58-48. Coming out of the time out Marquon Jackson immediately jacked up an ill-advised shot and Atkinson County came down and scored two points on a pair of free throws.
However, typical of their play the confident Panthers came right back with three quick points, a free throw by Justin Raymond and a stickback by Farris on a third attempts.
“”I don’t know what we were doing,” said a smiling and relieved Brannen. “The way we play…it’s organized chaos. It’s our mentality.”
And, while it was Jackson who cranked it up from the left side Brannen had nothing but praise for his 5-foot-9 senior point guard.
“He holds us together,” said Branned. “He’s not a scorer, but he’s the guy that runs things for us.”
The game was tied 21-21 when the Panthers simply exploded behind Williams and Farris.
The Panthers ended the half on an 11-4 run with six points while Williams drilled a 3-pointer and Shane Reese pulled down a rebound and went the length of the floor for a layup.
The halftime break did not slow down the Portal express as it started the second half the way it ended the first, going on a 14-1 tear in the first four minutes of the third quarter. When Williams scored inside at four minute mark it was 44-26.
“Fred is a scorer,” said Brannen. “He will take some bad shots, but he will take good ones, too, which is what scorers do. He can score anywhere on the floor – he can post up inside or hit the three.
“We started jelling in the Region 2 tournament,” said Brannen. “Against Terrell County we’ve got to do a better job in the open floor, and protecting the ball in the fourth quarter. Terrell County similar to us. We can match up with them.”