PORTAL — The Portal Panthers got a tough early test from rival Emanuel County Institute Friday night. The Bulldogs made things tough throughout the night, but Portal was able to maintain a lead and pulled away late to record a 69-55 victory.
Portal (4-0) has faced a perennial shortage of height over the years, but is enjoying the transfers of Trent Thomas and Harrison Sherrod — both 6-foot-3 — this season. Thomas made the most of his size advantage, leading Portal with 22 points.
“It’s nice to be able to match up and not have to worry about giving up size all the time,” Portal Coach Jeff Brannen said. “Being able to work the ball inside and get points down is always great. We just have to keep working on our defense since we’re not used to working with the size we have now.”
James Brown (15 points), Keith Sapp (12) and Jakobie Boatwright (10) all had good nights for the Bulldogs (2-1), but did most of their damage after Portal had already built a comfortable lead.
ECI kept even with Portal until the Panthers hit a few key shots late in the second quarter. Robert Lee (10 points) hit a pair of free throws and Thomas drained a midrange jumper before making a free throw of his own.
Just seconds before halftime, Thomas threw down an impressive alley-oop to give the Panthers a 31-23 advantage at the break.
Brown kept the Bulldogs in contention with slashing drives and short jumpers, but Portal’s Tyler Budgett (11 points) canned a pair of third quarter 3s to keep ECI from gaining ground.
“Tyler knows his role for us,” Brannen said. “He’s a real good spot-up shooter. We had some times where we were out and running, but when we needed to set up and find Tyler, he was there to hit his shots.”
Portal couldn’t quite pull away in the final quarter, but never saw its lead shrink below 10 points.
Portal girls edge Bulldogs
The Lady Panthers continued to play up their role as ‘Cardiac Cats’ letting a 10-point halftime lead slip away, but regrouping in the final minutes for a 32-29 win over Emanuel County Institute.
Breyonna Raymond led the Panthers (2-2) with 13 points and a Shiann Hagins (9 points) jumper with 2:28 to play snapped an eight-minute field goal drought and gave Portal a lead it never relinquished.
“I guess this is just going to be our style,” Portal coach Cliff Hubbard said of his team, which has seen a final point margin of four points or less in all four of its games. “We still had our ups and downs, but we played well when we really needed it down the stretch.”
Portal continued to piece together its offense, which will be without the services of an injured Chandelier Morgan for at least a month.
Raymond scored nine points in the first half as Portal built a 19-9 lead at the break, but the Lady Bulldogs (1-2) outscored Portal 13-5 in the third quarter and tied the game at 26-26 midway through the final period.
Hagins’ jumper put the Panthers in front and Tia Hagins added a layup. Hagins broke free on a fastbreak to score the game’s final basket with 52.7 seconds to play.
After ECI failed to hit a shot, Portal was able to avoid the press and run out the final 35 seconds of play without surrendering possession.
Both Portal squads return to action Tuesday night as they travel to Wrightsville to take on Johnson County.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.