PORTSMOUTH — For the Portsmouth Trojans on Tuesday night, it was an early Christmas gift that came better late than never at all.
Actually, it was a pair of early presents — first an actual game and secondly a subsequent win.
That’s because the Trojans, just three days before Christmas of all dates, finally played their first basketball game of the 2020-21 season — as the Portsmouth program, including head coach Gene Collins, has been heavily beset by a coronavirus quarantine.
So too were the Trojans’ Ohio Valley Conference and season-opening opponents on Tuesday —the South Point Pointers.
But, at long last, the Trojans tipped off the season and, by leading for the game’s final 18 minutes and 22 seconds, eventually pulled away from the Pointers for a 58-40 victory inside socially-distant Trojan Arena.
Hence, exactly 10 months to the day after Portsmouth last played a game —its Division III sectional championship tilt against Eastern Brown —the Trojans took to the court, and readied to battle somebody other than themselves in practice.
Collins, himself, said he had contracted coronavirus, as his assistant coaches have been running Portsmouth’s practices for the past couple of weeks.
But the 12-year Trojan mentor was back on the bench on Tuesday night, glad to be back in the gymnasium with his team — as opposed to being bedridden at home.
“Our guys, and we have a veteran group, were extremely ready and eager to get going. It was really good to see our guys come together and play. Just glad to get in the gym and play ball. My hats off to my staff too. Over the last month, I had COVID. I was out for an extended period of time, so those guys had to run practice while I was out. They have done a really good job of getting these guys prepared and ready to go,” said Collins. “Our guys keep it in perspective, that we understand the impact of COVID and understand why we had to get shut down. We’re just taking advantage of this opportunity tonight to get to play, and play it like it’s our last game. I think our guys played that way, which is good for them.”
The Trojans, as half of their 11-man roster consists of juniors, sports three seniors — Michael Duncan, Miles Shipp and Chris Duff.
Duff, on three field goals and 3-of-4 fourth-quarter free throws, and Shipp — on five field goals and a fourth-frame foul shot — scored 11 points apiece, and were instrumental in Portsmouth pulling away from its slim 23-19 halftime edge.
After a hotly-contested and close first half, which featured three first-quarter ties (2-2, 4-4 and 9-9) and 10 total lead changes, the Trojans seized control over the second 16 minutes.
It actually spanned the final 20 minutes, as South Point posted its largest margin at 17-14.
From there, the Trojans doubled up the Pointers 44-23, including 22-11 in the final period —as they scored three late consecutive baskets to extend the lead to as large as 58-38.
Balanced scoring with four Portsmouth players in double figures, along with the Trojans’ mixes of defenses, did the job.
As South Point played without its top player, six-foot three-inch all-Southeast District Division III first-team senior Austin Webb, the Trojans tightened their guard on fellow senior Nakyan Turner.
While Turner tallied 22 of the Pointers’ 40 points, including a second-half 16, Portsmouth clearly began to fluster and frustrate him into turnovers and poor shots.
Only Turner and Darryl Taylor, who notched nine points on three field goals and 3-of-5 foul shots, scored for South Point in the final two quarters.
Mason Kazee with a first-quarter three, Carmelo Sammons with a second-stanza two, and Cody Brandt with a pair of first-half field goals accounted for the only other Pointer points.
“I thought our 1-3-1 (zone) was really good, and even when we went to some man (man-to-man), it was good. The biggest thing was making them make difficult passes. We were there on the catch for the most part,” said Collins. “Their best player Webb was out and so that makes a huge difference, but once we were able to locate their shooters, I thought we made them stand and gave them some problems. Our guys are buying into our zone, they like playing it and we’re getting better at it.”
It finally spilled over for Turner when he was assessed a technical foul with 3:40 remaining, as Duff drained one of two free throws for a 47-36 lead.
South Point never got closer from there, and in fact, the Trojans netted nine unanswered points over a three-minute span to expand a 49-38 advantage to 20 (58-38) with 12 seconds left.
Portsmouth made 3-of-6 free throws in that stretch, Dariyonne Bryant made two steals and converted two layups, and Donavon Carr drove in off a steal for the largest lead.
Carr, on five field goals and 3-of-9 free throws, paced Portsmouth with 13 points —while Bryant bagged 10 points on four field goals and 2-of-4 freebies.
“We have an unselfish group and balance is what we have to have,” said Collins. “These guys don’t care who scores, as long as we put it in the bucket. We have to continue to have that balance. That’s going to be who we are.”
The coach also praised Bryant’s and Shipp’s rebounding ability, Carr coming up “with some good timely buckets and doing some dirty work for us,” and the minutes Michael Duncan and Tyler Duncan produced — especially when Shipp was out with foul trouble.
With the Trojans leading 24-20, Duff and Tyler Duncan drained back-to-back winged threes for their first double-digit (30-20 with 4:15 in third) advantage.
The Pointers did push back with a 9-2 run over the next 2:45, but Carr scored twice to close the canto —and Amare Johnson’s triple a minute into the fourth made it a 10-point (39-29) game again.
South Point, on Turner’s trifecta, got no closer than 41-36 from there.
Johnson, in the middle two quarters, canned 3-of-6 foul shots —while Drew Roe recorded a pair of second-stanza baskets, including his second with eight seconds to play to make it 23-19.
From there, the Trojans truly took control — getting out and running the floor and actually playing a game.
With Portsmouth’s shuffled schedule now backlogged by its shutdown, Tuesday’s tilt tipped off a holiday stretch — should it remain — of four OVC games in nine days.
The Trojans traveled first on Wednesday night to defending conference champion Fairland —the first of three scheduled makeup matchups.
The others are at Chesapeake on Monday night (Dec. 28) and against Rock Hill next Wednesday (Dec. 30).
But as Collins stated, Portsmouth playing games now is indeed a good thing.
“Because we’ve been off for so long, that’s not going to be an issue with us. Our guys are tired of practicing. They want to play. If we get these four games in, that gives us four league games. Hopefully, we can keep winning and go into the new year chasing for the league title,” he said. “We want to keep things going now that we’re starting.”
South Point 11 8 10 11 — 40
Portsmouth 10 13 13 22 —58
SOUTH POINT 40 (0-1, 0-1 OVC)
Maddox McCallister 0 0-0 0, Nakyan Turner 9 3-6 22, Erikai Jackson 0 0-0 0, Mason Kazee 1 0-0 3, Darryl Taylor 3 3-5 9, Malik Pegram 0 0-0 0, Carmelo Sammons 1 0-0 2, Xander Dornon 0 0-0 0, Cody Brandt 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 16 6-11 40; Three-point field goals: 2 (Nakyan Turner and Mason Kazee 1 apiece)
PORTSMOUTH 58 (1-0, 1-0 OVC)
Amare Johnson 1 3-6 6, Drew Roe 2 0-0 4, Dariyonne Bryant 4 2-4 10, Chris Duff 3 3-4 11, Daewin Spence 0 0-0 0, Donavan Carr 5 3-9 13, Michael Duncan 0 0-0 0, Miles Shipp 5 1-3 11, Tyler Duncan 1 0-0 3; TOTALS 21 12-26 58; Three-point field goals: 4 (Chris Duff 2, Amare Johnson and Tyler Duncan 1 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved