PORTLAND In one week’s time, the Portland and White House boys prep basketball teams had significantly different performances.
However, the end result was the same for both teams as the visiting Blue Devils rallied in the fourth quarter for a 49-48 victory.
“When the fourth quarter kicked in … our crowd feeds off of us,” White House junior forward Malik Morgan said. “We feed off of each other.
“We love it. It’s the best (rivalry). Getting up and crazy like that, there’s nothing like it.”
The Panthers (1-3) led for the first 11 minutes of the second half, but turnovers proved costly during the Blue Devils’ late surge.
“It’s part of the (maturation) process,” Portland head coach Chris Carney said of his squad’s inexperience. “We played seven guys. Five were J.V. (junior varsity) guys from last year, and four were 10th-graders.
“The great thing is that we get to play Westmoreland again and White House again. I’m excited to see their growth.”
A layin by senior Eric Kirk and two free throws by classmate Caelum Utley gave the Panthers a 23-22 lead at halftime.
The margin swelled to as much as seven points when Utley made a 14-foot jump shot with 2:53 remaining in the third period.
“We underestimated them,” Morgan said. “We came in and beat Gallatin (in a 94-83 win last Tuesday) in a good way.
“The coaches told us that we couldn’t come into this game lackadaisical … we did.”
The lead was at six points entering the final period, and Utley’s one-handed dunk created a three-point margin with 5:27 remaining.
However, Blue Devil freshman Jared Ward made his fifth and final 3-pointer 10 seconds later.
“They’re special shooters,” White House head coach Gary Smith said of Ward and fellow freshman Cole Pond. “We’re not afraid to go to them. They have the green light.”
The White House full-court press forced a turnover seconds later, leading to junior Bradley Cole’s go-ahead 3-pointer that placed his squad in front to stay.
Blue Devil senior point guard Luke Hopkins also made two of his four 3-pointers in the final period. White House sank 10 3-pointers.
“Finally, we started hitting some shots,” Morgan said. “It got us going.”
Morgan scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, with his back-to-back baskets creating a 44-39 lead.
His one-hander at the 2:02 mark made it a six-point margin.
However, Portland sophomore guard Bryce Keith responded by hitting a 3-pointer 21 seconds later. Keith scored seven of his career-high 15 points in the final period.
“He had some shades of that in our first game,” Carney said. “That was his type of game. He’s quick. He can get to the rim. I’m super proud of the way he played. It was a big lift.”
The Panthers had opportunities to get closer but missed the front end of a bonus situation at the free-throw line and then misfired on a 3-pointer.
Kirk’s deflection led to a steal with less than 20 seconds remaining, and Utley – who finished with a game-high 21 points – tossed in a 5-footer with nine seconds left to create a one-point margin.
Hopkins missed the front end of another bonus situation with 5.8 seconds remaining, and Portland quickly pushed the ball up the left sideline. However, a pass was mishandled, and the ball rolled out of bounds as time expired.
“It didn’t surprise me that this was a one-point game,” Smith said. “We don’t go anywhere else where they have Beat White House T-shirts. There’s some (strong) feeling here.”
White House (4-2) produced almost half as many points as it did in the win over Gallatin, due in part to the slower pace. That was partially due to the zone defense that Portland employed.
“We haven’t seen a zone early (in the season),” Smith said. “We knew what to expect. We worked on it. I thought we did a pretty good job. We just didn’t finish, and we didn’t shoot it well from outside (early on).”
Morgan added, “We practiced against it all week. We knew they were going to do it. It’s frustrated the heck out of us. It’s always tough for us to slow it down. We can score against the zone, but we have to find a way. It’s frustrating when we are trying to run (the floor) hard. We have to be the aggressor. Tonight, we weren’t the aggressor. We have to keep working. It’s good for us to have these (close) games. Our potential is to the sky.”
Ward scored a team-high 15 points, and Hopkins provided 14 points.
Carney felt that his squad play significantly better than in its previous contest, a 57-42 loss at Westmoreland.
“This is the way we have to play, the way we played tonight,” Carney said.
The Panthers open district play by hosting Gallatin on Friday evening.
The Blue Devils host Springfield on Saturday evening.
Reach Craig Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 615-575-7138. Follow him on Twitter @HarrisGNESports.
WHITE HOUSE (49) – Jared Ward 15, Luke Hopkins 14, Malik Morgan 13, Bradley Cole 7.
PORTLAND (48) – Caelum Utley 21, Bryce Keith 15, Eric Kirk 9, Jay Crutchfield 3.
Half: 23-22, Portland. Three-point goals: White House 10 (Ward 5, Hopkins 4, Cole 1), Portland 2 (Crutchfield 1, Keith 1). Records: White House 4-2, Portland 1-3.