SOUTH POINT — The Spirit of Christmas is all about giving back.
And when a team gives back to the game of basketball, that said team will usually receive a win in return.
With the Trojans facing a 12-point deficit — and a second consecutive loss to start the OVC slate — right in their eyes, Portsmouth, behind the energy of Isaac Kelly and Reese Johnson, along with 45 points combined from DJ Eley, Daniel Jordan, and Matthew Fraulini, rallied from the aforementioned margin with seven minutes to play, on the road, no less, to take down a strong South Point basketball unit, 65-58, on Friday evening in South Point.
Making halftime adjustments, however, is also critical. And according to Collins, it was the idea of former SSU head coach and current Portsmouth assistant Jim Arnzen to fight fire with fire by pressing the Pointers in the second half — as South Point had done to Portsmouth in the opening set of stanzas.
“Hat’s off to my assistant, Jim Arnzen,” Collins said. “He stayed in my ear and said, ‘Hey, they’re pressing us, and it’s causing us to turn it over, so let’s press them back.’ That was the difference.”
From the opening tip, a competitive and hard-fought battle of wills broke out as both teams traded the point six different times during the opening quarter alone before Portsmouth pulled ahead at the end of the opening quarter of action behind 10 combined points from Jordan and Kelly.
Jordan, who was active on both ends of the floor throughout the contest, continued his spirited play in the second quarter as the junior ultimately led Portsmouth with 10 points in the first half. The 6-2 standout connected on a low-post bucket that, along with two free throws and a three-pointer from Fraulini, gave the Trojans their largest lead of the contest at 24-14 with 5:30 to play behind a 10-0 spurt.
“We knew early on that Daniel would be hard to keep off of the glass,” Collins said. “He got us going early, and he was the reason why we got the lead early.”
But after calling a timeout, South Point regrouped and, ultimately, went on a run of its own. The Pointers, behind the play of Austin Webb — a freshman who played well beyond his years with 11 points in the first half alone — answered with a 17-2 spurt over the final 5:30 of the half as South Point, behind a three-pointer from Douglas Shaffer at the first half horn, ended the opening stanzas up by a 31-26 margin. Shaffer’s three ultimately began a personal 8-0 spurt from the sharpshooter by himself as the Pointers increased the spurt to 22-2, and the lead to 36-26, with 5:59 to play in the third quarter.
“South Point’s really, really hard to guard,” Collins said. “They’re really small, athletic, and quick. That freshman that they got in there (Austin Webb) is a handful. He may only be a freshman, but my God, he’s going to be a handful the next four years. We had trouble guarding him. At halftime, our guys were really down. South Point (Douglas Shaffer) made a three at halftime to put us down five. If they don’t stab that three, we’re only down two. We were disappointed that we had a 10-point lead and lost it. We started out the second half like we wanted to defensively, and got some stops, but just couldn’t cash in on the other end, and the lead swelled.”
To Portsmouth’s credit, however, the Trojans never quit — thanks to the energy that Johnson and Kelly provided in the third quarter. The pair scored four points apiece in the frame and, through their pesky defensive play, created numerous deflections or steals that ultimately allowed Portsmouth to cut the deficit to as little as three, 41-38, before South Point scored five of the final seven points in the quarter to extend the margin back out to a 46-40 margin heading into the game’s final frame.
“There’s no doubt,” Collins said when asked about how Johnson’s and Kelly’s second-half efforts changed the game for Portsmouth. “Isaac and Reese were big for us tonight. They had a lot of energy and emotion.”
In the final frame, junior standout Tayshaun Fox — who completed a dazzling behind-the-back no-look pass to Shaffer to finish off the third quarter — got going. Fox scored each of South Point’s first five points en route to a team-high 15 for the game, and sprinkled in another nicely placed assist to Shaffer from behind the three-point line to expand South Point’s advantage to the largest of the contest, 54-42, with seven minutes to play.
But if people were looking for a South Point runaway, Portsmouth had other ideas.
Behind the incredible defensive efforts of Kelly, Johnson, and DJ Eley, the Pointers had difficulty even getting the ball cleanly past halfcourt as the trio combined for numerous steals, deflections, and — in Kelly’s case — a chasedown block on an attempted layup by Fox that hit off of Fox’s arm as the junior sailed out of bounds. Eley then combined with Fraulini — who hit two critical threes during a 12-0 spurt by Portsmouth — for 10 points in the run to tie the game at 54 apiece with 3:54 to play in the ballgame. When South Point answered with four straight tallies, Eley then came up big again by forcing two additional South Point turnovers, which led to a breakaway layup from Kelly and a strong take to the rack from Eley himself to tie the score at 58 with 2:04 left to go.
“It’s been tough on DJ,” Collins said. “We had 17 turnovers at halftime, and we’re coming off 20 turnovers against Coal Grove. But like I told our guys, we’re just going to have to embrace the fact that it’s early, and we’re struggling with pressure. We were finally able to overcome the jitters of getting pressured. We pressed them back, and it helped.”
The ensuing play, however, would prove to be the biggest of the night.
Even with the sure-handed Fox controlling the rock up top, Johnson’s pesky energy continued to pay ultimate dividends as the forward read and stole a pass from near the top of the key en route to taking the ball in for yet another Portsmouth bucket, which gave the Trojans its first lead of the second half, 60-58 with 1:24 to play.
From there, the Portsmouth defense, even with a comfortable lead in hand, stood its ground.
After forcing a Shaffer miss from the left wing on the other end, Portsmouth stood just four free throws away from icing the game. But while Portsmouth missed all four, another steal by Johnson and excellent, disciplined defense on a Fox runner and a pair of three-pointers from the junior allowed the Trojans to get another crack at the charity stripe, where Portsmouth went 3-of-4 in the closing seconds behind Eley and Kelly. Kelly then proceeded to ice the game, as Portsmouth, who obtained another steal on South Point’s final possession, iced the game with Fraulini calmly finishing Kelly’s pass off with a layup in the final seconds of the game to set the final score.
“We wanted to try to keep (Tayshaun Fox) out of the lane,” Collins said. “It was hard. He’s such a talented player. Our guys, a lot of times, want to get out on him. But you’re not going to steal the ball from him directly. He’s a talented kid. We made him shoot tough shots at the end, and then, we were able to close the deal through our rebounding.”
With the victory, Portsmouth rebounded from a critical loss to Coal Grove on Tuesday evening in Portsmouth while moving to 1-1 in OVC action, and moved its overall record to 4-1, as well. While conference play doesn’t start back for the Trojans until Jan. 5 against Chesapeake, the upcoming contests against Western (Wednesday) and at Wheelersburg (next Saturday) will be critical as far as fine-tuning is concerned.
“Every game in the league is going to be this way,” Collins said. “Obviously, Fairland is really good, Gallia Academy is close behind, and then everybody else is really, really close behind them, so you’ve got to bring it every night.”