PORTAL — In the past three weeks, Southeast Bulloch has taken on elite teams from all around Georgia.
The Yellow Jackets have traded punches with all opponents, but hasn’t quite found the necessary knockout blow.
That trend continued Friday as the Jackets (4-8) pushed Vidalia — 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in Class AA — to the brink before dropping a 66-61 decision in the opening day of play at Portal’s holiday tournament.
“Vidalia was a Final Four team last year and a quality team again this year,” SEB coach John Page said. “It’s tough to match up with those teams, but that’s the challenge that we want for ourselves. I feel like we’ve played well. It’s just a matter of continuing to grow and improve.”
Vidalia’s Malik Mincey led all scorers with 26 points and set the pace with 12 before halftime to keep the Indians a few steps in front of SEB over the opening minutes.
As the Jackets tried to rally in the second half, it was a team effort that kept Vidalia in front. Eight different Indians scored at least two points in the second half and Vidalia players hit on all but two of their final 12 free throws to maintain the lead.
“I give a lot of credit to Vidalia,” Page said. “They took away the 3-point line late and made all of the plays when they had to. It’s about finishing games. That’s what we need to learn to do and it’s what Vidalia did well.”
SEB trailed 46-39 — well within striking distance — after the third quarter, but a slow start to the final period forced the Jackets to take more risks on offense. Vidalia turned a few early mistakes into turnovers and transition buckets, stretching its lead to double-digits.
The Jackets had one final push, led by Lamont Ballard (24 points). After connecting on a field goal and a pair of free throws to keep SEB close, Ballard canned a 3 with just over 3 minutes to play.
Malik Puckett notched a steal on Vidalia’s ensuing possession and drove in for a short jumper to get the Jackets within 58-56 with 2:45 to go.
But that was as close as SEB could get.
Mincey answered Puckett’s points with a driving layup and the Jackets came up empty-handed on their next two offensive possessions while the Indians executed from the free throw line to help put the game on ice.
“We didn’t get the win, but we have a lot of guys who are growing up,” Page said. “We have guys who are playing fearless, and that’s what we want to see. That’s what will help us moving forward.”
Southeast Bulloch won’t participate in the second day of Portal’s tournament, but returns Monday for the final day of action when the Yellow Jackets will take on Appling County at 4 p.m., in Portal.
Thomas drops 32 in Portal win
PORTAL — Trent Thomas scored 32 points and the Portal Panthers capped off the first night of the Portal Holiday Classic with an 85-72 win over Long County on Friday.
Akeem Oglesby finished with 23 points for the Panthers (6-2), and Devon Moore and B.J. Prescott each finished with 10.
The Lady Panthers faced Long for the evening game and lost 56-19.
The Portal boys resume tournament play today at 7:30 p.m., against Bryan County.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.