PORTAL — Portal put up a fight, but Chris Lovett, Kenyale Lacue and the rest of Emanuel County Institute wouldn’t be denied.
Lovett and Lacue combined for 34 points — 15 of them in the fourth quarter — as the Bulldogs held on for a 48-46 win Saturday night in Portal.
After trailing for the game’s first 22 minutes, the Panthers finally edged ahead midway through the third quarter as they held ECI without a made field goal for over six minutes of game time.
A fastbreak layup by Corey Reese (11 points) put Portal up 38-34 with just 3:34 to go, but Lacue connected on 3-pointers on three of the next four Bulldog possessions to snatch the lead back.
Portal was able to cut the lead to just one point on three occasions throughout the game’s final minutes, but missed 3’s on each of its final two possessions put the Panthers in a tough spot, and Lovett’s steal of an inbound pass with ECI clinging to its two-point lead with 8.5 seconds to play iced away the Bulldog win.
“Obviously, this one was pretty disappointing,” said Portal coach Jeff Brannen. “We thought that we were in a good spot, but (Lacue) caught fire at the end. We just need to practice hard on some things like hitting our free throws and closing teams out and we’ll be alright.”
Trailing by five coming out of the locker room and through the first few minutes of third quarter action, Stacey Morgan (16 points) got the Panthers going.
Morgan weaved his way through for the Bulldog defense for layups on consecutive possessions and when ECI’s C.J. Johnson was whistled for a technical foul with 1:35 to play in the quarter, Morgan sank both free throw attempts to give the Panthers their first lead.
Both teams had scoring opportunities in their next two possessions, but neither could convert and Portal maintained a 30-29 lead into the final eight minutes of play. Portal scored the first three points of the fourth quarter, but wasn’t able to put the Bulldogs away.
“It was one of those nights where the last team to get hot wins,” said Brannen. “It just wasn’t our night.”
It didn’t look like the Panthers were going to have much of a chance early.
Lovett scored the game’s first six points and ECI raced out to a 15-7 lead before a Morgan 3 ended the first quarter.
A 6-0 ECI run early in the second period stretched its lead to 21-12. As the quarter wore on Portal was able to curb the momentum, but couldn’t do much about its deficit. In the minutes following the Bulldog run, each team committed four turnovers and managed just three points, but Morgan nailed an 18-footer with under ten seconds remaining in the half to claw the Panthers within 24-19 at the break.
“ECI hurt us in transition early,” said Brannen. “Once we were able to get into a half-court game, things went a lot better for us. We just couldn’t quite finish it.”
With the loss, the Panthers’ three-game Region 3-A winning streak was snapped.
Portal travels to Montgomery County Tuesday for another region showdown.
Lady Bulldogs 50, Lady Panthers 20
The Portal girls continued their struggles in Region 3-A play, dropping Saturday’s first game to Emanuel County Institute by a 50-20 margin.
The Lady Bulldogs raced out to a 20-3 lead after just one quarter of play, quickly taking the Lady Panthers out of the game. ECI stretched the lead to 33-9 by halftime and easily cruised through the final 16 minutes of play to salt away the win.
Ashanna Steele paced the Bulldogs with 21 points and Tekerra Branch followed close behind with 16 of her own.
In all, ECI starters accounted for all but two points as only eight Lady Bulldogs saw action in the game.
The Panthers struggled to find a hot hand at any point in the game, and Megan Moore’s five points were good enough to lead the team.
Portal will try to regroup Tuesday as the Lady Panthers hit the road for a 6 p.m. showdown against Montgomery County.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.