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Portal rebounds
Johnson Co. no match for Panthers
121614 BKB PORTAL HOOPS 03
Portal's Artavious Thomas finishes for a breakaway score past the outstretched hand of Johnson County's Tadrick Brown in the third quarter on Tuesday in Portal. - photo by Associated Press

    PORTAL — Facing a Johnson County squad from the opposite side of the always-competitive Region 3-A, the Portal Panthers were in no mood to take prisoners.
    The Panthers erupted for a 9-0 run to start the game and never trailed in a 76-42 runaway victory Tuesday night.
    “We were a little disappointed with our loss (against Statesboro last weekend),” Portal coach Jeff Brannen said. “Sometimes, you’re afraid of how the team will react. We came out fired up and bounced back well.”
    Johnson County (4-2, 1-0) had performed well in subregion and crossover games so far, but ran into a buzz saw in the Panthers (5-2, 2-0).
    Portal’s Trent Thomas led all scorers with 21 points. Teammates Tyler Budgett (18) and D’Von Moore (12) were also in double-digits and a total of 10 Panthers scored points on the night.
    Good shooting build the Panthers’ lead over the first two quarters, but it was stifling defense that made sure the Trojans couldn’t mount a comeback effort. Johnson County repeatedly pounded the ball into the lane, but Thomas and B.J. Prescott combined to block eight shots and when the Trojans did get a look, the duo dominated the glass to prevent second chances.
    “Early on, we wanted to emphasize getting the ball to Trent inside,” Brannen said. “He got us out to a lead. When the defense started clicking, it really allowed our offense to open up and score.”
    Exiting the locker room at halftime with a 39-20 lead, the third quarter began slowly until the Portal defense struck again.
    Following a 3 by Thomas, the Panthers went into a press that the Trojans weren’t prepared for.
    Four consecutive Johnson County possessions ended in turnovers, with all four converted into fastbreak layups by Budgett.
    By the time the dust had settled, it was a 12-0 Portal run and a 56-26 Panther margin. A powerful alley-oop from Moore to Thomas at the end of the period ensured a mercy clock for the fourth quarter and brought the home crowd to its feet with the game well in hand.
    “We played with a lot of heart and a lot of confidence,” Brannen said. “When you do that, good things happen.”

Lady Trojans 48, Lady Panthers 27
    With two of last year’s leading scorers no longer around, there was no doubt that the Portal girls might need a while to find a spark.
    Now seven games into the season, the Lady Panthers are still searching.
    Portal managed just four points in the first half as it fell to 0-7 to begin the 2014-15 campaign with a 48-27 setback against Johnson County (4-3) Tuesday evening.
    Lexus Smith and Miracle Wright were the beneficiaries of plenty of Portal turnovers. Both scored 13 to lead the Lady Trojans.
    “Right now, I think that we’re fearful of what we can and can’t do,” Portal coach Cliff Hubbard said. “We’re doubting ourselves out there and it’s leading to us really struggling. We have four or five practices before our next game, and hopefully we can improve on that.”
    A pair of free throws from Keri Carter (7 points) were the only Portal points of the first quarter and Tiffany Harlow’s short jumper in the second period was the Panthers’ only made field goal of the first half.
    Things didn’t get any better out of the break as Portal scored just two more points — this time via a Chandlier Morgan layup — in the third quarter. Morgan finally found some open looks in the fourth quarter and led the Panthers with 14 points, but the game was already out of reach.
    The main thorn in the Panther offense’s side was a Johnson County press that never let up. Every inbound was met with constant Trojan pressure that Portal couldn’t shake.
    “We’re not a young team anymore,” Hubbard said. “We’ve played a big chunk of the season already. These are things we have to improve on if we want to get better.”
    The Portal boys and girls now get 10 days off over the holidays before returning to action Dec. 26 as Portal opens up play in its annual holiday tournament.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.