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Portal rolls away from Wheeler

    MILLEN — It was tough sailing early on for the Portal Panthers, but a big third quarter gave them some breathing room and they cruised to a 69-45 win over Wheeler County in Thursday night’s Region 3-A tournament quarterfinal matchup.
    Corey Reese put on a clinic for the Panthers (18-7) scoring 17 and pulling down 13 rebounds.
    Robert Lee led all scorers with 19 and Stacy Morgan piled on with 18 of his own.
    The Bulldogs (17-7) pulled within 33-32 in the early seconds of the third quarter, but Reese rattled off seven points during a 13-0 Portal run that blew the game wide open.
    “We need Corey to play well every night to execute like we want to,” Portal coach Jeff Brannen said. “We’re a guard-oriented team and he’s one of our only forwards. We need him to take up the entire middle of the floor and that’s something he did well tonight.”
    A put-back bucket by Alex Williams ended the Bulldogs’ long drought, but Portal’s offense continued to click, running up a 54-34 margin heading into the fourth quarter.
    The teams were nip and tuck through the first two quarters as Portal continually opened up small margins only to see Wheeler County put together a run and pull back into contention.
    A jumper by Ty Bryant brought the Bulldogs even at 25-25 midway through the second quarter and a free throw by Quinn Williams (15 points) gave Wheeler a brief lead. But Morgan drilled a deep 3 to reclaim the lead for Portal and two buckets from Shawn Hagins staked the Panthers to a 33-30 halftime advantage before running away in the final two quarters.
    “I give a lot of credit to Wheeler County,” Brannen said. “They played us close in our first meeting and they did it again early on. We missed some open looks and (Wheeler) took advantage. Once we started hitting our shots and playing good defense, things started going our way.”
    With the win, Portal advances to play Treutlen tonight at 8:30 p.m. in the semifinals.
    The Panthers will be out for some revenge as the Vikings put an end to Portal’s 5-0 start this season with a 58-43 win back in December.
    The championship games will be played Saturday and the Class A state playoff bracket will be announced next Tuesday.

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