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Portal loses overtime heartbreaker
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Portal guard Darius Huff scores from the top of the key during a Jan. 30 game against Woodville-Thompkins in Portal. The Panthers are currently competing in the Region 3-A tournament.


    SOPTERTON — Sitting tied at the No. 15 spot in the GHSA, Class-A boys basketball power ratings, the Portal Panthers needed a strong showing in the region tournament to solidify their spot in the big dance.
    Facing Johnson County in their first game of the Region 3-A tournament Thursday night in Treutlen, the Panthers got all they could handle from a scrappy Trojans team. Portal held a seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter, but turnovers and relentless pressure from the Trojans allowed Johnson County to sneak away with a 56-53 win in overtime—potentially ending the Panthers’ season.
    “We let one slip away,” said Portal head coach Jeff Brannen. “You got to give credit to (Johnson County). They put the pressure on us. We were battling uphill all night and we just couldn’t handle the pressure. We didn’t execute.”
    In a low-scoring affair, the Panthers were without the services of leading scorer Darius Huff in the third and fourth quarter. Huff collided with a Johnson County player at mid-court right before halftime. Huff, bleeding from his head, would not return to the game.
    Coach Brannen said Huff will likely need stitches to repair a “boxer’s cut” under his eye.
    “(Huff) is our leading scorer and we look to him to do a lot of things. Of course, the other guys have to step up,” Brannen said. “That’s basketball. On any given night, anybody can beat anybody.”
    In Huff’s absence, Malik Williams and Artavious Thomas carried the load offensively for the Panthers. Williams finished the night with 15 points and Thomas ended in double figures with 10 points.
    B.J Prescott had seven points while Ronald Williams led the team defensively with five blocked shots.
    Thursday’s region playoff game featured seven ties and four lead changes. The Panthers looked as though they would walk away with a win up 46-39 with 3:38 left to play in the game. Thomas and Malik Williams helped spark a 7-0 run on transition baskets.
    Nonetheless, the Trojans battled back on an 8-1 run to close out regulation.
    In overtime, the Trojans led 54-50 with just 16 seconds left to play. Malik Williams was able to hit a clutch three-point shot to cut the lead to 54-53 with under five seconds in overtime.
    Portal fouled sending the Trojans to the line. Malik Williams would have one more chance to send the game into double-overtime, but couldn’t convert.
    Only the top 16 teams in the GHSA Class-A power ratings will advance to the state playoffs. For now, the Panthers will await their fate as the final rankings will come out at the conclusion of the region playoffs.
    “We just have to wait and see. We either made it by a slim margin or just missed it by a slim margin,” Brannen said. “We just have to wait and see.”