After a season split to the regular season rivalry, Portage Central coach Ray Robinson knew that Wednesday night’s matchup with Portage Northern was going to be a slugfest. What he wasn’t expecting was a game that had 55 fouls between the two teams and his Mustangs going to the line 33 times as Portage Central defeated Portage Northern 72-59 in Class A district action at Kalamazoo Central’s Zuidema Gymnasium.
Portage Central capitalized their opportunities at the free throw line in the first quarter to build a lead when they weren’t able to get the ball to drop from the floor. After jumping out to a 9-4 lead 3 minutes into the game, the Mustangs went 6 for 6 from the line in the last 3 minutes of the quarter to take a 15-8 lead after the opening quarter.
“Our plan was to get the ball inside and let our big guys do some work,” said Robinson.
While the Mustangs found the hot hand from the line in the first quarter, Portage Northern struggled, going 0-4 from the line in the opening period.
The Mustangs came out in the second quarter and found their shooting touch, as Jason Mih and Eli Potts each connected on three pointers after Mih’s quick two to start the quarter to extend their lead to 20-10 just two minutes into the second.
“Eli’s a very patient player,” said Robinson, “He does all the little things I need… he’s like the duct tape for our team, he’s able to hold us together.”
Video by Coletin Gascho
Following a Portage Northern timeout at the 4:26 mark, Portage Northern’s Cameron French hit the Huskies’ last basket from the floor for the quarter. For the last half of the quarter, the Huskies would have to rely on their shooting from the line for adding points to the scoreboard.
In the last 3:30 of the second quarter, both teams found themselves in the bonus and were sent to the line on nine occasions. While the Mustangs were still able to drop some shots from the floor, they once again extended their lead to 35-21 with less than 20 seconds to play. Some late substitutions by Robinson to get some guys in foul trouble off the floor heading into the half paid off, as Zach Baumgartner came in and less than 10 seconds later, hit a three pointer with just 3 seconds left on the clock to send the Mustangs into the locker room with a 38-21 lead.
“It was great to get those guys in and get them time in a big game,” said Robinson, “It was a huge bonus for us when Zach hit that three. That really got us going in the locker room at halftime.”
Both teams came out of the locker room and swapped threes, with Northern’s Devin Marshall scoring the first three of his game-high 20 points and Central’s Luke Leto answering the next time down the court.
Marshall’s three seemed to wake up the Huskies, as they hit seven shots from the floor in the third. But they didn’t settle for scoring just from the field, as Portage Central’s penchant for fouling the Huskies put the Huskies into the bonus with 4:35 remaining in the third quarter. The Huskies went 6 for 6 from the line to go along with their scoring from the floor to total 22 points in the quarter.
While the Huskies closed the gap with their third quarter scoring, the Mustangs once again depended on Potts to help control the offensive flow. Potts would add four points to sophomore Smith Moore’s four points to help keep the Mustangs’ lead intact at 52-43 heading into the fourth quarter.
Two quick Mustangs buckets at the start of the fourth quarter, including a three from Potts, opened the lead back to 14 points. Using a swarming man to man defense, the Mustangs kept the Huskies from scoring from the floor for nearly three minutes, forcing them to rely on free throws to chip away at the big lead the Mustangs had built up.
“We’re really deep, when guys got 3 or 4 fouls, we didn’t have to drop back into a zone, we could just sub out and use our bench,” said Robinson, “We were able to stay in our man to man defense and keep them from shooting from outside the arc.”
Portage Central’s final basket from the floor came with 3:34 remaining, as freshman Luke Leto hit a jumper. The Mustangs’ remaining points would all come from the charity stripe, as four different players added points to help close out the scoring.
“We finally played a complete game,” said an excited Robinson following the game, “Now we have to come out and play that strong again Friday night.”
Portage Central 15 23 14 20 — 72
Portage Northern 8 13 22 16 — 59
Eli Potts – 16
Jason Mih – 15
Luke Leto – 10
Bronson Wyman – 8
Smith Moore – 5
Griffin Baker – 5
Max Godsil – 4
Max Longman – 4
Zach Baumgartner – 3
Colin Palmer – 2
Devin Marshall – 20
Torian Jackson – 15
Jeff Wilson – 6
Cameron French – 6
Tyler Amos – 3
Quinlan Lewis – 3
Michael Lincoln – 3
Jumauca Golliday – 3