COAL GROVE — Basketball games usually display a mixture of hot and cold spells.
On Tuesday evening, the Portsmouth Trojans’ boys basketball program certainly had its fair share of both.
And even with those hot and cold spells, Portsmouth found a way to make up a sizeable deficit — twice — en route to giving itself a chance to win a critical Ohio Valley Conference road bout in the final minute of an affair against the Coal Grove Hornets’ boys basketball program.
Unfortunately for Portsmouth, however, the Trojans’ fight and grit did not result in a road victory in conference play as Portsmouth dropped its first OVC road bout of the year in a 59-53 loss to Coal Grove in a highly competitive affair.
While Gene Collins knows that his unit put everything it had into obtaining a positive result on Tuesday evening, the veteran head coach also knows that Coal Grove simply took advantage of the opportunities available at the end of the day.
“We just squandered too many opportunities,” Collins said. “Early on, we had several turnovers, and that put us in a hole. We were able to get out of the hole, get ourselves a lead at the half, then came out in the third quarter and dug ourselves another hole. We weren’t able to overcome that.”
Over the initial frame of action, both units traded their fair share of long-range bombs as both units ultimately obtained a pair of treys in the opening quarter of action, with Matthew Fraulini connecting on a pair of long-distance shots from the left corner en route to collecting seven points in the frame and keeping Portsmouth within three, 14-11, at the end of the opening quarter of play.
However, the second quarter, which saw Coal Grove quickly expand its lead to a 24-16 margin off of the red-hot shooting from Corey Borders — who obtained eight of his game-high 14 points in the frame — looked like it was going to get somewhat ugly for the Trojans until Danny Lattimore and Gabe Gambill sparked a late Trojans rally halfway through the period.
Behind a committed take to the rim from Lattimore, Portsmouth found a pulse late in the second quarter of action, and, behind a finish down on the opposite block from Gambill and a sick feed from Gambill to Daniel Jordan for an and-one, the Trojans went on a 9-0 run to take its first lead of the contest, 25-24, with 2:30 to play in the opening half. Both teams then traded the lead four additional times before Lattimore — whose spirited efforts led to 10 points off of the bench — drew contact with 13.6 seconds left in the half and nailed the ensuing pair of free throws to give the Trojans a 29-28 advantage over the Hornets at the halftime break. The junior, who has seemingly improved on a game-by-game basis, obtained eight points last Friday against Ironton in what proved to be a big OVC victory for the Trojans.
“Danny’s had two good games for us,” Collins said. “He was big in the Ironton game, and he gave us some life tonight when we were down.”
Unfortunately, the 9-0 spurt that Portsmouth put together was quickly undone in mere seconds. Within the first 49 seconds of the second half, Coal Grove went on a 10-0 run that proved to be costly as the Hornets turned the one-point halftime deficit into a strong 38-28 advantage with 7:11 to play in the third quarter of action.
“Everything we had built, we lost,” Collins said. “Now, we’re in a dogfight again.”
But after not scoring for the first two minutes and 41 seconds in the third frame of action, it was Lattimore who ultimately gave Portsmouth a spark once again. With yet another strong take to the rack, Lattimore kickstarted an 8-3 run that was ultimately aided by four huge points from Daniel Jordan during the stretch as the Trojans cut the lead to 41-37.
When Coal Grove pushed the lead back out to eight points on buckets from Jeb Jones and Jordan Case, Portsmouth immediately followed by obtaining the next five tallies to close the quarter off of the back of Fraulini — who had a team-high 11 — and DJ Eley, who nailed a crucial trey from the right wing — to draw the Trojans within three, 45-42, at the end of the third quarter of play.
“We were hoping that we could’ve made those runs to start both halves,” Collins said of the late runs in the second and third quarters of play. “We do that in the second half, we’re up 10.”
With Jones — who scored eight of his 10 points in the second half — getting warmed up from the floor, however, a comeback was anything but a formality, especially when Coal Grove extended its own lead to a 49-44 margin with 5:04 to play in the contest.
But with its backs against the wall, Portsmouth stood tall and forced three critical turnovers, which mostly came off of the energy that Lattimore and Reese Johnson provided during the affair. The defensive energy, along with the Trojans’ ability to get on the trampoline and obtain offensive rebounds, ultimately allowed Fraulini to cap off a 7-2 run with his game-tying layup off of a perfectly executed backdoor cut and feed inside with 2:47 left as the score sat knotted at 51 apiece.
Unfortunately, Angelo — who followed Borders’ output with 12 of his own — and Jones proved to be too strong. Both players found a way to score on back-to-back offensive possessions for Coal Grove, and despite an Isaac Kelly basket that cut the Hornets’ lead to 55-53 with 57.9 seconds left, two consecutive Portsmouth turnovers ultimately spelled doom for the Trojans as Coal Grove (9-3, 4-2 OVC) closed the book on the affair.
“Hat’s off to the guys for fighting back after that and giving us a chance, but at the end of the day, we just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch,” Collins said. “We didn’t get stops. We had a couple of chances where we got stops, but we couldn’t come away with the loose ball, or we’d tie the ball up. In the last couple of possessions there, they made a couple of plays to close the game out.”
With the loss, Portsmouth fell to 8-4 overall and sits with a 3-3 overall mark in OVC action. Collins, however, knows that there’s no time to dwell on the loss considering that a home bout against South Point and a road trip to Gallia Academy — with two of the OVC’s elite in Tayshaun Fox (South Point) and Zach Loveday (Gallia Academy) — await the Trojans on Friday and Saturday.
“There’s nothing easy left,” Collins said. “We’ve got South Point coming to town Friday evening, and we were down 12 with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter at their place. We were lucky to win that game. Then, we’ve got to go to Gallia Academy on Saturday, which is going to be a big challenge because they’ve only have one loss all year.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT