WEST PORTSMOUTH — In the most enjoyable seasons of the decade as far as tournament success has been concerned for the program, the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Portsmouth Trojans’ boys basketball units — with guys like Andrew Bendolph, Dion McKinley, Wayne Evans, and Jayllen Carter — proved to be well-balanced units that had multiple go-to scorers.
And while it is definitely too soon to tell if the 2017-18 version of the Trojans will advance to the same depths, it is clear that Portsmouth has another unit capable of putting four to five guys in double-figures on a game-by-game basis.
Daniel Jordan scored nine of his game-high 17 points in the third quarter, Matthew Fraulini collected eight of his 13 tallies in the same frame, and Gabe Gambill proved to be a matchup nightmare from start to finish en route to a 15-point outing as Portsmouth overcame an early 10-3 deficit by scoring 55 points combined in the second and third quarters of action and, after using a 25-8 run to take the lead, never trailed over the last 23 minutes of the contest en route to an 80-56 victory over the West Senators’ basketball program on Saturday afternoon at West High School in West Portsmouth.
With a 3-0 start and three double-digit victories by 24 points or more, it was certainly not a surprise to find a pleased look on Gene Collins’ face following the victory.
“We are proud of where we’re at right now,” Collins said. “We’ve got a big week ahead of us. We’ve got a very good Coal Grove team coming in that has some size and all of their kids back, then we’ve got to go to South Point on Friday evening. We’ve got two big league games this week, so we’ve got to keep getting better.”
As for Bill Hafer, the first-year head coach had no problem admitting that Portsmouth was simply the better team on Saturday.
“We had no answer for that size,” Hafer said. “(Gabe Gambill) outweighs us by a lot, and we just had no answer for that. He’s a good player who is strong with the ball, can finish, and make his foul shots. Then, when you can throw it inside and score, but also be able to kick it back outside when the inside shots aren’t there to capable shooters, that makes the cover really tough for us. We just don’t have the size to match up.”
At first, however, it was West who delivered the opening punch. The Senators, who were led by the strong play of LT Maynard and Jordan Frasure throughout the affair, jumped out to a 10-3 push at the beginning of the contest behind the duo, who combined for 18 of West’s 29 first-half points. The pair ultimately finished with 15 and 13 points, respectively, in the contest.
“LT and Jordan don’t quit,” Hafer said. “They’re seniors and they play like it. They give everything they’ve got. I was proud of both of them. They took and made good shots for us. They didn’t quit. They fought to the very end.”
“I thought that early on, we got off to a slow start,” Collins said. “We missed some shots early, and West got the game at the pace to where they wanted it to be. However, we gathered ourselves up and worked to really establish our post game.”
But as soon as Gambill was inserted into the contest with less than four and a half minutes to play in the opening quarter of action, the contest dramatically changed in a hurry as Collins and Co. ran the offense through Gambill. The 6-5, 255-pound senior big man scored five points in the 4:30 span and allowed Portsmouth to establish backcourt pressure defensively off of his made shots, resulting in a 10-2 run that gave the Trojans a 13-12 lead after a quarter of play.
“I talked to Gabe before the game and told him that he had a chance to have a big night,” Collins said. “We wanted to get the pressure turned up early and press West early on, so when we got that going, we got them fatigued, and then we were able to go to him inside. He went right to work in the post and changed the game for us.”
“We handled Portsmouth’s pressure well, and we shot the ball well,” Hafer said. “Once they hit shots, and were able to apply more pressure to us, it got us out of our rhythm. It’s also such a quick turnaround from last night. We played last night in a hard-fought ballgame (against Northwest) that took four quarters to win, then you have to come and play at 2 p.m. the next day, that’s tough for us. I’m proud of them. I hate it that they went on that run and scored in the way that they did, but we’re not going to hang our heads.”
With the momentum on Portsmouth’s side and West trying to play catch up off of the Trojans’ excellent ball movement, PHS wasted no time putting on a tremendous shooting display in the second quarter behind the ability of Jordan, Reese Johnson, and Isaac Kelly, who all took their turns in being the go-to figure offensively while maintaining the ball movement that allowed the Trojans to maintain control and extend its lead.
The trio, who combined for exactly half of Portsmouth’s 80-point output (Johnson and Kelly finished with 13 and 10, respectively) each showed off a mixture of strong drives, low-post finishes, and deft touch from the outside en route to building the Portsmouth lead to 33-21 with 3:44 to play in the second quarter of action. Five consecutive points from Maynard and Frasure later in the quarter allowed West to cut the gap to 35-29 with 1:46 left in the opening half, but the Trojans, behind a Johnson three-pointer from the right wing that beat the buzzer, capped off a 5-0 spurt that put Portsmouth up 11, 40-29, at halftime.
“This has been a trend with our team,” Collins said of the balanced scoring output. “We can spread the ball around and we can get scoring from various people. That’s a big, big reason why we’ve had early season success.”
“That’s hard for us,” Hafer said of covering the entire length of the floor when playing Portsmouth. “Anytime they want, they can get two points. Then, at the same time, they can throw it out where they have shooters everywhere ready to fire away. And some of those guys that can post can also shoot it. That makes it tough.”
In the second half, West made an attempt to get back into the fray as baskets from Maynard and Dylan Bradford allowed the Senators to remain within striking distance, 46-33, with 4:55 to play in the third quarter of action after the Senators initially trailed by 15 earlier in the quarter.
A timeout by Collins, however, allowed Portsmouth to regroup, and from there, Jordan’s nine-point frame, along with excellent ball-denial defense on Maynard, proved to be critical as the Trojans went on an 11-3 run at one point. Fraulini then added a four-point play after knocking down a three from the left wing while being fouled in front of the Portsmouth bench and scored on a runout in consecutive possessions to allow the Trojans to close the quarter on a 22-8 spurt in the 4:55 span as Portsmouth took a 68-41 lead after three quarters of play. Gambill then added eight of his 15 points in the fourth frame to close the deal.
“We adjusted what we were doing in the first half,” Collins said. “We believed that LT hurt us with his penetration, and even though we were pressing him well, he was still getting around us. We made an adjustment and went to denying him, which took him out of the game in the third quarter. They were fatigued from last night’s game (against Northwest), and they’ve fought hard through three games. We knew that, so as the game went farther along, some of the shots that they were making were coming up shorter because of the tired legs.”
With the victory, Portsmouth improved its overall standing to 3-0. The Trojans will face Coal Grove at home on Monday evening to start its OVC slate, and will follow that up with an equally tough South Point squad in South Point on Friday evening.
“We are proud of where we’re at right now,” Collins said. “We’ve got a big week ahead of us with a very good Coal Grove team coming in on Monday. They have size and return all of their kids. Then, we go to South Point on Friday evening. Those are two big league games, so we’ve got to keep getting better.”
As for West, the loss doesn’t dampen the strong start to the season for the Senators, who are 2-1 and 2-0 overall in SOC II play thanks to a 54-43 victory over Northwest in McDermott on Friday evening. West will play at Waverly on Monday evening as the Senators head back into SOC II action with the upcoming bout that lies ahead.
“That’s our No. 1 goal, getting to the Convo,” Hafer said. “I’m thrilled with the week. Winning those two conference games means so much more to us than anything else. We’ll take that. We’ve got two conference games next week, also, and we want to keep this rolling. I love the way that we’re playing right now. As far as today goes, we’re going to put that in the past and move on, but if we play the way that we play these last two or three days, we’re going to be tough.”