After watching a 14-point fourth quarter lead be whittled away, Portage Central boys basketball head coach Ray Robinson was already thinking about teaching moments.
In the moments to follow, it was Robinson who learned the answer to a question he’s been waiting for. As his Mustangs hung on for a 51-47 overtime win over rival Portage Northern, Robinson learned how his young team would handle a pressure situation.
“The kids showed a lot of fortitude to fight through,” Robinson said. “A lot of times, that momentum will carry over to overtime and your team will just be dead, but the guys stuck with it.”
Portage Central’s largest lead came midway through the fourth quarter, when a bucket by junior guard Eli Potts but the Mustangs up 45-31. The Huskies would rally, scoring the final 14 points of regulation, forcing overtime.
“I was wondering, what play are you going to make?” Robinson said. “In a game like this, a lot of the structured stuff you have works for a while, and then the emotion takes over. So my thought was ‘are they going to make basketball plays?’”
For a long stretch, it was Portage Northern making all the plays, including junior forward Cameron French, who scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter. French hit a pair of 3-pointers, and was 4-of-4 from the free throw line during that stretch.
“Cameron French is a special young man,” said Portage Northern head coach Ben Neal. “He can flat-out shoot. He’s a competitor.”
After both teams missed a pair of free throws in the final 40 seconds of regulation, the two teams regrouped for overtime. For Portage Central, that meant tightening back up on defense.
“I don’t think we were being as aggressive, and I think we had some defensive lapses,” said Eli Potts. “We turned it up in overtime.”
Portage Northern scored first in the extra period, on a bucket from junior guard Devin Marshall, who finished with a team-high 14 points. This basket gave the Huskies the lead for the first time since holding an early 6-4 advantage.
Portage Central answered shortly after, with a corner three from Potts that gave the Mustangs a 48-47 lead – and which proved to be the game winner.
“A big shot,” Robinson said of Potts. “Having the courage to square up and knock that down.”
Jason Mih added a pair of free throws to extend the lead, and Portage Northern couldn’t get a shot off on its final possession. Mih added one final free throw to secure the win.
The loss sends Portage Northern to 3-4 on the season, but coach Neal saw what his team could be capable of moving forward.
“When we learn to play for 32 minutes, instead of maybe 25, we’ll be okay,” he said.
As for what sparked the turnaround for the Huskies in that fourth quarter, Neal had a simple answer: desperation.
“They’re over here against their rival, getting it handed to them,” Neal said. “They got backed into a corner. You can either tuck your tail and hide, or you can put your fist up and fight back, and they did that. I’m very proud of them for doing that.”
Eli Potts led Portage Central with 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds. The Mustangs also got a major contribution from freshman Luke Leto as well. Leto pitched in 12 points with 8 rebounds, and had a breakaway dunk early in the fourth quarter, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
“He’s a special kid,” Robinson said. “There’s not much he doesn’t do on the basketball court. “
Jason Mih was a third Mustang in double-figures, with 10 points. Colin Palmer added five points, and Max Godsil chipped in with four.
Portage Central will hope to carry over momentum from this win into a Tuesday rematch with Mattawan – the sole team to defeat the Mustangs so far. Portage Northern will also return to the court Tuesday, with a road game at Otsego.
Photos by Chris Carpenter
Portage Central 14 7 13 11 6 – 51
Portage Northern 8 8 5 24 2 – 47
Griffin Baker – 2 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals
Eli Potts – 13 points, 7 rebounds
Jason Mih – 10 points, 3 rebounds
Colin Palmer – 5 points
Luke Leto – 12 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists
Max Godsil – 4 points, 3 rebounds
Bronson Wyman – 2 points, 6 rebounds
Max Longman – 2 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists
Devin Marshall – 14 points
Tyler Amos – 13 points
Isaac Sykes – 2 points
Cameron French – 10 points
Tori Jackson – 6 points
Michael Lincoln – 2 points