The Portal Panthers knew what was riding on Friday night’s game against No. 6 Claxton as Coach Jeff Brannen preached all week a win would give them the No. 1 seed in the upcoming region tournament. Before a capacity crowd the youthful Panthers responded, coming from a 13-4 deficit to knock off the previously undefeated Tigers 55-50.
Coach Brannen has been having success bringing 6-7 center Fred Spells off the bench. Trailing 13-4 Brannen brought in his difference maker, and Spells respond. Spells blocked three straight shots and had a follow up dunk to get the crowd on their feet. The Panthers went on a 15-4 run, led 29-21 at the half and held Claxton to just six points in the second quarter.
“Fred gave us the spark we needed, and he is a rim protector,” said Coach Jeff Brannen. They were getting some easy shots and when Fred comes in he alters shots inside and out when he blocks a couple. Teams can’t get easy baskets in there when he shows up and we needed him to help get us going on both ends of the court.”
The Tigers wouldn’t let up in the second half which saw the teams go back and forth. The Tigers went on an 10-2 run to open up the third quarter and took a 31-30 lead. The lead would go back and forth the rest of the game with the players feeding off the loud crowd on hand.
“We love playing at home,” said Brannen. “We don’t have a huge gym but when the student section starts getting into the game, they can really help make a difference.”
Late in the fourth Spells fouled out with eight points eight rebounds and nine blocked shots. Amir Jackson had a three point opportunity but missed the free throw to give Portal a 47-46 lead with 2:28 left in the game. After a Claxton miss Elijah Coleman hit on an awkward driving shot and was fouled but missed his free throw as well to make it 51-46. Claxton hit on the other end, but Coleman then sank two free throws to help ice the game.
“We really hung in there and showed some character tonight,” said Brannen. “We missed a lot of free throws and rushed ourselves at times but battled and were steady at the end. These guys haven’t played in too many meaningful games, but tonight they had one and they battled and persevered.”
The Panthers were led by Elijah Coleman with 23 points, while Amir Jackson had 14 points. The win improves the Panthers overall record to 16-6 and 11-1 in region play. The Panthers wrap up the regular season home against Screven County next Friday with the girls starting at 6:00.
Portal 23 Claxton 51
The Portal girls struggled out of the gate, and never were really able to stay competitive Friday night against region leading Claxton as the fell 51-23.
The Panthers found themselves trailing 14-6 at the end of the first quarter, and the Tigers proceeded to take a 31-16 halftime lead. The second half saw things go from bad to worse as Claxton held the Panthers to only one point on the fourth quarter.
“We spotted them 20 points, and when you are playing a team like that it makes for a long night,” said Coach Huey Williams. “We started off pretty good but when things started bad it seemed like the girls just quit. We came back a little in the second half but missed a lot of layups in the fourth quarter and just couldn’t score.”
The Panthers fall to 4-14 overall and 2-10 in region play. Alyric King led the Panthers in scoring with 10 points.
In other area action Bulloch Academy swept a pair of region games against the visiting Pinewood Patriots Friday night. The Lady Gators won 48-17 behind a game-high 11 points from Ashantay Noble and 10 points from Armani Cooke. The Lady Gators are now 12-8 overall and 7-0 in region play. The Gator boys beat Pinewood 69-53 behind 23 points from Ryan Swanson and 15 from Bo Spence. The Gators are now 10-10 overall and 5-2 in region play. Up next Bulloch Academy is at Frederica Monday night.
The Statesboro Blue Devils swept a pair of games on the road at Northside Warner Robins. The No. 4 ranked Lady Devils won 52-45 to improve to a perfect 18-0 on the season. The No. 8 ranked Statesboro boys completed the sweep with a 78-71 win to improve to 17-2 overall. Tim Taylor led the boys with 16 points, while Albert Mikell added 13 points. Up next Statesboro wraps up the regular season at Brunswick Friday at 6:00.