Portland's #2 Harrison Collins is defended by Gianluca Albert during Cromwell's 55-51 victory on Jan. 18.
The boys’ basketball team at Portland High School suffered a hard-fought conference loss against undefeated Cromwell, 55-51, on Jan. 18 before responding with wins over Simsbury and East Hampton last week.
At Cromwell, the Highlanders played with a sense of urgency from the opening tip and used a swarming, press defense to hold the Panthers to 15 points in the first half, taking a seven-point lead into the break
They relinquished the lead in the second half before coming back and almost stealing the game in the final minute.
“Overall I love the way my boys fought and I want them to hold their heads high,” said Portland head coach David Bradbury.
Eli Evison scored 11 of his team-high 18 points over the first 16 minutes. The 6’6'' forward showcased an ability to dominate down low with a soft touch and stretch the defense with his outside shooting, evidenced by his trio of three-pointers.
Leading 22-15 at the half, the Highlanders increased their lead to nine in the opening minute of the third on a jump shot from Harrison Collins. The Panthers responded by going on a 15-4 run, taking their first lead of the game midway through the quarter.
Cromwell sophomore Victor Payne took over in the third, scoring 14 of his game-high 22 points in the frame.
“Cromwell did a good job, especially in the second half, at getting us out of our rhythm a little bit,” said Bradbury, “[Payne] is a tremendous player. He got going a little bit and we had trouble keeping in front and we had a tough time helping and leaving the strong side corner open. We let some of their lefty shooters get hot from the corner. That dictated that third quarter.”
The teams exchanged five more lead changes in the third, highlighted by a three and a pair of layups from Joe Rusczyk, who finished with 17 points.
A three pointer by Jake Salafia put Cromwell up 39-35 heading to the fourth quarter and home team rode the momentum into the final quarter, taking a 52-43 lead on a put back from Louis Friend with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
But Portland did not go quietly into the night and on the following possession, Evison knocked down a deep three as the Highlanders scored eight of the next nine points.
Evan Johnson canned a contested three-pointer and Rusczyk made an acrobatic layup to narrow the gap to 53-51. Jake Thompson then drew an offensive charge on the ensuing inbounds, giving the team the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.
Evison nearly delivered, but his layup attempt bounced out with five second remaining in regulation.
Cromwell’s Gianluca Albert, who finished with 20 points, drained a pair of free throws with 3.5 second left to seal the game and improved the Panthers to 6-0.
Thompson had seven points and Collins added six in the loss.
Bradbury was proud of how his team responded in the hostile environment, “There is no question that these are two of the better teams in the Shoreline Conference. It is a bit frustrating. I thought we fought really hard down the stretch.”
Following the tough loss, the Highlanders responded with home wins over Simsbury (1/19) and East Hampton (1/21) to close the week. Thompson scored 21 points in the 66-56 win over the Bellringers, which improved the team to 6-5. East Hampton, who was led by Jye Lynch’s 20 points, fell to 4-2.
Portland has another Shoreline showdown this Friday, Jan. 28, when they welcome Morgan to PHS. The game tips at 7 p.m.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin