PDT Sports Writer
It was coming, it was just a matter of time.
The “it” was the Ironton surge. Despite shooting 6-of-27 from the field in the first half, the Fighting Tigers made their mark in the third quarter of Saturday night’s road nonconference tilt with Portsmouth. A 16-2 run to end the third quarter gave Ironton the final lead change as Trey Fletcher’s 26 points helped the Fighting Tigers escape with a 53-51 victory.
“The bottom line is that we made it way too easy on them to guard us,” Ironton coach Mark LaFon said. “We were taking shots after one, two and three passes. You’re not going to win ball games doing stuff like that against any decent team.”
The Trojans, coming off a 75-43 win at Jackson the previous night, slowed the tempo of the game and forced the Fighting Tigers into contested perimeter shots. It was one of the tactics deployed by Portsmouth coach Gene Collins, understanding his team’s conditioning this early in the season would not be able to handle the speed of the Ironton transition game.
“Their game plan was to get us rattled because we had the flow going the way that we wanted it,” Collins said. “It was a great first half, we followed the game plan to a T defensively. We wanted to pack it in and fortunately that first half, (Zac) Carter didn’t get going.
“We didn’t have an answer for Fletcher or that lead might’ve been a little bit more than what it was.”
Entering the second half with a 23-17 lead, Collins knew it was only a matter of time before the pressure would really be turned up on his youthful ball club.
“We did not want to get the game in a track meet, we knew that from the beginning,” Collins said. “One of our game plans offensively (was that) we wanted the ball on the offensive end of the floor more than not.”
Zac Carter connected on the Fighting Tigers’ first 3-pointer of the night with 4:02 left in the third. The basket, which cut the score to 30-29, ended a streak of 11-straight misses from beyond the arc.
Ironton took the lead for good on its next trip when Fletcher’s field goal made it a 31-30 advantage. It was the Fighting Tigers first time in front since being up 5-4 early in the contest.
In a span of 2:51, Collins burned three timeouts, looking for any way to get momentum back on his team’s side. It left the Trojans with just one timeout entering the final period.
“I felt like emotionally, we were getting a little bit frazzled there,” Collins said. “Guys were starting to panic and my thought was that we’ve got to get this wound covered up right now because we were bleeding, so to speak.”
The spurt was a microcosm of how LaFon’s team played in the first three periods. He stressed patience to find the right shot, even if it resulted in a made basket.
“I just told them that if anybody takes a shot with less than (seven) passes (in the possession) you’re coming out of the game,” LaFon said. “When Darrius Boykin hit that 3-point shot, I took him out because we only made three passes.”
For the second-straight game, Jayllen Carter carried the load of the Portsmouth offense. A night after he collected a school single-game record 44 points, Jayllen Carter poured 15 of his game-high 27 points in the final quarter.
No shot seemed bigger at the time than Jayllen Carter’s trifecta with exactly a minute to go. His shot, along with Ky’re Allison’s bucket on the next possession made it a 49-48 game. But Fletcher finished scoring three of the visitors’ final four points to put the game away.
“We expect that steady scoring from them all the time and if we’re consistent, we’ve got to have between them averaging about 20 points apiece,” LaFon said of Fletcher and Zac Carter.
Zac Carter chipped in with 17 points and was one of the defensive pests that forced 22 Trojan turnovers. Allison finished with 10 in the loss.
A lot will take place between now and the Jan. 22 rematch in Ironton. Collins hopes his young squad can grow and even the season series in the next encounter.
Before then, Portsmouth will have a week off before setting out on its second back-to-back in as many weekends with Friday’s home game against SEOAL favorite Warren preceeding Saturday’s neutral site game against Paintsville (Ky.) Johnson Central at Ashland (Ky.) Boyd County High School.
The Fighting Tigers will return home Tuesday to face Waverly, the second SOC II school they will see in the first three outings.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 294, or email@example.com.
Ironton — Boykin 1-0-3, Cox 0-2-2, Carter 6-3-17, White 2-0-4, Fletcher 8-10-26, Stephens 0-1-1, Totals 17-16-53.
Portsmouth — Oliver 3-0-7, Allison 3-4-10, Dickerson 0-1-1 Porter 1-0-2, Carter 9-4-27, Grashel 2-0-4, Totals 18-9-51.
3-Point Goals — Ironton 3 (Carter 2, Boykin); Portsmouth 6 (Carter 5, Oliver).
Records — Ironton 2-0; Portsmouth 2-2.