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Portal tops the Devils
Panthers beat SHS in 55-52 thriller
    Portal fans can finally say it: “We beat Statesboro.”
    Mario Jackson’s running 3-point attempt from just beyond the arc sailed wide left as time ran out, giving the Panthers a 55-52 win in front of approximately 3,000 fans Tuesday night at Hanner Fieldhouse.
    Jackson’s shot was the third Statesboro possession in which the Blue Devils had a chance to tie, but Portal’s defense held, and fans of the small Class A school just north of town erupted in celebration.
    “I feel good,” said Portal senior Mario Farris after the game. “I told ya’ll we were going to win!.”
    The Panthers (14-1) opened up a 48-40 lead early in the fourth when Farris put back a rebound on a fast break. The Hanner crowd quickly became pro-Portal and Statesboro looked to be wearing down with a thin bench.
    But the Blue Devils  (7-7) slowly made their way back with a quick 7-0 run. The teams then traded baskets over the final 31⁄2 minutes, culminating with a Shane Reese lay-in in which the junior was left wide open under the basket with 56 seconds left to provide the final tally.
    “It’s kind of hard, because I played for coach (Lee) Hill,” said Portal coach Jeff Brannen on the win. “People don’t realize that there’s a lot of pressure on him. There’s a lot of pressure on me, too. We don’t like playing against each other, really. I know it’s a big game and big in the community, but it’s a lot of pressure and it takes its toll on both of us.”
    Brannen had yet to beat his former coach until Tuesday night. The win was unquestionably a big confidence boost for an already dangerous team.
    “It’s a great feeling,” said senior guard David Buchannon. “We’ve been working hard in practice. This game — we’ve been waiting for it.”
    Statesboro got the ball with 30 seconds left,  and broughtit into the frontcourt, but Jackson’s handoff to Eric Ferguson was fumbled out of bounds.
    After a Portal missed free throw, the Devils pushed the ball up the floor to freshman JaQuan Raymond. But his game-tying attempt from the left-wing missed and Portal again looked to be in the clear. The Panthers missed the front end of another one-and-one, however, giving SHS 5.5 seconds of hope.
    Jackson went airborne just past mid-court and had to dodge the right arm of Farris in order for his desperation heave to have a chance.
    Despite the star power featured on both sides, the game was a test of defenses.
    Buchannon led all scorers with 15 but was shut out in the second quarter. Farris had 13 but never scored more than four in one period. Portal guard T.J. Busby had 14 but failed to score in the third and struggled at the line. Jackson led SHS with 14, but Ferguson only had 11, well below his season average.
    “They were playing real good defense,” said Buchannon. “(Statesboro) box-and-oned — that was kind of hard to get around with.”
    The game had 12 lead changes, starting in the first quarter after Farris put PHS up 2-0. Statesboro answered with a 6-0 run, Portal went ahead 7-6, then the Devils went up 9-7. The first quarter ended tied at 11.
    The Panthers led 26-20 towards the end of the first half, bringing the Portal faithful to its feet. The Panthers kept an eight-point lead at 28-22 going into the locker room as SHS went the final 2:50 of the half with just two points.
    Rashad Lee, who dominated the glass pulling down 11 rebounds for Statesboro, put SHS up 34-33 on a jumper with 2:14 to go in the third. Jackson followed that up with a score off an offensive rebound on the next trip to push the score to 36-33. It was the last lead the Devils ever saw.
    Shane Reese’s jump shot made it 36-35, setting the stage for Buchannon’s buzzer beater at the end of the quarter. The newcomer from Indiana head-faked his defender, stepped to his left, and stroked a 3-ball from the left corner as the horn sounded.
    “ I thought we were outmanned tonight with the bench size,” said Hill. “You gotta give my kids credit, they fought untill the end and made some things happen. I thought we played great defense in the second half and overall I thought the kids played well.”
    The two teams will meet in the rematch Saturday with the girls game beginning at 6 p.m.
    Lady Blue Devils 55, Lady Panthers 22
    The Statesboro girls team cruised to a 55-22 win over Portal Tuesday at Hanner Fieldhouse.
    Senior Gwen Jones had a double-double with 11 points and 16 rebounds in the dominant win.
    “It was an extra advantage because (PHS was) so short,” said Jones. “Our jumping ability is great. All our post players have really good height and all of us have real good jumping ability.”
    Jones was given plenty of opportunities for rebounds, as the Panthers (7-8) settled for long-range shots over Statesboro’s zone defense. The Panthers didn’t reach double digits until the 3:35 mark of the third quarter and were held five minutes without a field goal at one stretch in the first.
    “We’ve been beating (Portal) for years,” said Jones. “We didn’t want to take this game lightly. Every team has heart and Portal’s a good team. They have a lot of heart — maybe to the point to where they can beat us. But we weren’t going to let that happen!”
    The Lady Devils (11-3) had three in double figures, led by Mo Bennett’s 14. Victoria Mikell added 10 and 10 different Lady Devils scored.
    Statesboro out-rebounded Portal 50-17.
    The Devils host the Academy of Richmond County on Friday beginning at 6:30 p.m. and the boys to follow.

    Chad Bishop can be reached at (912) 489-9408.