Putting in a strong effort always counts for something.
However, just because that effort is put in doesn’t mean that a win will magically appear — especially when a team faces off against an opponent that has excellent skill across the board.
After falling behind by a 21-9 tally in the opening quarter of action and eventually watching the Fairland Dragons’ boys basketball program shoot out to a 30-14 halftime lead, the Portsmouth Trojans’ boys basketball program, behind the deft shooting of Matthew Fraulini and DJ Eley, along with excellent hustle plays from MyQuel McKinley, Isaac Kelly, and Reese Johnson, cut the Fairland lead to as little as 33-22 with 4:02 left to play in the third quarter of action.
Unfortunately, the Dragons, who connected on 10 triples for the entire contest, proved to be too strong. Fairland ultimately hit seven of its 10 three-pointers in the final 11 minutes of action and put four players in double-figures — including Isaiah Howell, who had a game-high 20 points — as the No. 8-ranked team in Division II and the top unit in the Ohio Valley Conference standings prevailed, 66-42, over Portsmouth, who fell to 7-3 overall and 2-2 in the OVC standings with the home loss on Tuesday evening in Portsmouth.
“Hat’s off to Fairland,” Collins said. “They knocked in every wide-open three that they got, and they made sure that they kept the cushion that they established early on.”
Over the first several minutes of Tuesday evening’s conference affair, Portsmouth, behind the energy of Daniel Jordan, kept pace with the much taller Fairland squad. Jordan fought off 6-8 Kollin Van Horn for a pair of low post buckets and Fraulini added the first two of his team-high 17 points as the Trojans trailed Fairland by just four, 10-6, halfway through the first quarter of action.
But as has been the case throughout much of the last three seasons, the size of Howell and Van Horn proved to be tough to battle through. The pair ultimately combined for 13 of Fairland’s 21 points in the first quarter of play — including each of the first 10 — as the Dragons took a 21-9 lead after a quarter of play. The increased focus on the pair opened up the floor for Keedrick Cunningham, who collected five points on his own in the frame en route to establishing the previously mentioned margin.
“It’s a bear to guard them,” Collins said. “They’ve got a 6-8 post player (in Kollin Van Horn) who is really good, so you have to look out for him. However, at the same time, you’ve got to get out on their shooters. They are the most skilled group of high school players that has come through this area in a long, long time as a group. Hat’s off to them. They made big threes, and you’re not going to beat Fairland when they make 10 threes.”
With Fairland’s athleticism omnipresent, Collins, in an attempt to keep the Dragons from going on the attack in transition and spreading the floor, slowed the pace way down in the second quarter. The result? A much more successful second frame as Portsmouth held Fairland to just nine points in the frame. And while the Trojans only scored five themselves in the frame, the decision was arguably huge going forward as Portsmouth was able to establish momentum off of its pace heading into the locker room.
“We wanted to make sure that we slowed the tempo down,” Collins said. “We’ve been averaging about 65 possessions a game, and we knew that we weren’t going to run with them and keep up the pace. They’ve got too many weapons. We went with the polar opposite of what we typically do by slowing the game down, and in the third quarter, we went back to our normal pace in order to try to cut into that lead.”
And when Portsmouth decided to speed the affair back up again in the third stanza, it was clear that the change from fast-paced, to deliberate, to, again, a fast-paced style, threw off the Dragons.
But, in addition to that, the Trojans exercised extreme grit throughout the third quarter of play, especially in the opening six minutes of the period.
After Jordan — who was successfully held scoreless by Van Horn following his initial four-point outburst — left after incidental contact caused an injury that relegated the senior to the bench for the rest of the game, McKinley, Johnson, Kelly, and Eley responded with a series of strong hustle plays and critical jumpshots that led to Portsmouth making a very solid third quarter spurt.
McKinley’s half-opening bucket, along with a three-pointer from the left corner from Eley and a second three ball from Eley off of a filthy behind-the-back feed from Kelly that cut the Fairland lead to 33-22 with 4:02 to play in the third quarter behind an 8-3 run. When Kelly was called for a technical on a turnover that the senior thought was created by a hack on the arm — leading to a four-point Fairland possession — it only aided the flame inside the 6-3 swingman, who drained a triple and drove to the tin for an and-one that kept the deficit within reach at 44-31. In that stretch, McKinley was especially huge with his out-of-area rebounding and extra-effort plays that kept possessions alive for Portsmouth.
“MyQuel gave us some big minutes off of the bench tonight,” Collins said. “We’ve been fighting sickness, with Daniel Jordan and Gabe Gambill being sick. Then, when Daniel got hurt (in the third quarter), MyQuel had to play big tonight.”
Unfortunately, Fairland’s Luke Thomas was just getting warmed up. With Portsmouth threatening to cut the lead to single digits on at least three separate occasions, Thomas answered each threat with a trey ball, then added his fourth dagger from deep with 25 seconds left in the third to push the Dragons’ lead to 50-32 in a blink of an eye by scoring 12 of his 17 points in the third quarter alone. The senior’s five threes, and Fairland’s seven second-half triples as a team, never allowed Portsmouth to come any closer after Thomas’ outburst.
With the defeat, Portsmouth will have to regroup as a series of road tests await it in the coming days. The first test? A road trip to Rock Hill on Friday evening, which will be followed by regional powerhouses in Gallia Academy, Ironton, and Coal Grove on Jan. 16, Jan. 19, and Jan. 23.
“It’s important,” Collins said. “I told our guys, ‘The next couple of weeks are going to be big for us.’ We’ve got a Rock Hill team that we can’t take lightly at all, and then we’ve got a big road game at Gallia Academy followed by another big road game at Ironton the following week. We’ve got to get in the gym and get guys healthy.”
Fairland, who improved to 9-2 overall and 5-0 in the OVC with the victory, will play conference rival Chesapeake in the Beast of the Southeast showcase on Saturday.