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Portal keeps rolling, advances to Elite 8
Portal's Shane Reese, lower right, gets Wilcox County defender Nate Moorhouse in the air while driving the baseline during Tuesday's playoff game.
    PORTAL — The Wilcox County Patriots didn’t forget about the 2007 GHSA Class A state playoffs when Portal eliminated them in a close 73-71 first-round game, but their revenge efforts fell short as the Panthers used hot shooting from Shane Reese and David Buchannon to advance to the Elite Eight with a 69-49 win in front of a rowdy crowd Tuesday night.
    The Patriots stayed in the game in the first quarter, answering everything PHS threw at them.
    After the Panthers started the game on a 8-2 run, including three Buchannon jumpers, WCHS responded with a seven-point run of its own, sparked by a Dank Gibson 3-pointer and capped off by a Lonnie Outlaw layup that put Wilcox up 9-8. The lead changed hands five times from that moment on, and when the dust cleared, Portal led 14-13 heading into the second.
    The Panthers shot 5 of 11 in the period, while Wilcox was 7-of-14.    
    “You have to give Wilcox credit. They’re a physical team,” said PHS coach Jeff Brannen. “They pushed us around there in the first quarter. Our shot selection wasn’t the best in the world.”
    The game changed pace quickly in the second, where PHS went 9 of 12 from the floor and gave itself a 36-26 advantage at halftime
    “In the first quarter we were kind of rushing our shots,” said Buchannon. “They were playing a tough 1-3-1 zone. We were kind of rushing and coach Brannen said, ‘Slow down. Make the extra pass,’ and that’s what we did that got us going.”
    Buchannon racked up 17 of his game-leading 25 points in the first half.
    “When the game’s close, they’re looking for me to take over,” Buchannon said. “I do that just to get my teammates involved.”
    Portal finished the contest nailing 7 of 8 3-point attempts, including three straight in the second frame. Buchannon and Shane Reese had three each.
    “I felt pretty good. I felt like the shot was going to be on tonight,” said Reese. “I was ready tonight — it was the first night I came out and showed what I really had. I prepared all week, and I was ready for it.”
    Mario Farris made sure his Panthers had all the momentum heading into the locker room when he grabbed Portal’s last two first-half points with a two-handed dunk over two Patriot defenders, sending the Panther crowd into a frenzy.
    “They’d been saying I needed to go to the hole stronger,” said Farris. “I tried to silence coach Brannen a little bit. He’d been getting on me about going to the goal weak, so I tried to go strong.”
    Farris grabbed the last of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, on an ally-oop from Buchannon — one of the guard’s six assists.     
    “When we were shooting free throws, I told (David) to be looking for the ‘oop,’ and we connected pretty good,” said Farris. “I knew it was coming.”
    Brannen credits the victory to the early lead he got from his offense. The 10-point lead in the third quarter forced Wilcox out of its comfort zone.
    “We came out in the second half and got a comfortable lead, and they had to go man,” Brannen said. “I thought that was a big crucial turning point in the game, when a zone team that played zone most of the year had to go man. We just took advantage of it and got some easy shots, plus we milked the clock a little bit.”
    The Patriots had an offensive run of their own in the third quarter, going on an 8-3 run highlighted by a pair of dunks by Outlaw and Alfonzo Dennard, but Portal responded with five more points to put it up 51-38 heading into the final period.
    Farris added 10 rebounds to his 14-point tally for a double-double, and Reese joined Farris and Buchannon in double digits with 13 points.
    The Patriots also saw three players reach doubles in points. Lorenzo Dennard knocked down 12, and Outlaw and Justin Wilcox added 11 each.
    With the win, Portal advances to the Elite Eight where it will face off with Terrell County, the No. 1 seed out of Region 1-A. Portal is as familiar with Terrell as it was with Wilcox.
    The Panthers last faced off with TCHS in the 2007 Elite Eight, and the meeting put an end to the PHS season.
    The matchup will take place at Columbus State, and tipoff will be Friday at 5 p.m. Right now, however, the Panthers have some celebrating to do.
    “We’re going to just soak this in right now,” said Brannen. “Tomorrow, we’ll start preparing for Friday’s game.”

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.