ATHENS — They didn’t just put a lid on the basket, someone welded it shut.
Unable to make shots from both close and far away, the Ironton Fighting Tigers fell behind by as many as 22 points before their furious comeback fell short in a 50-40 loss to the Portsmouth Trojans on Saturday in the Division III regional finals.
Ironton was 2 of 21 from the field in the first half and scored just five points. The Fighting Tigers fell behind by as many as 22 points before getting within 37-32 on a layup by Trey Fletcher with 5:14 to play.
But the battle was too far uphill to reach the top and Portsmouth converted four key free throws to fight off Ironton’s rally as they fell one game shy of making their third state tournament appearance.
“You have to make the shots you have. We had shots at point blank range,” said Ironton coach Mark Lafon “We dug ourselves such a great hole we couldn’t dig out of it.”
Ironton (19-6) dominated the glass, holding a commanding 45-28 rebounding advantage including 21-7 on the offensive end. But the Fighting Tigers were just 15 of 54 from the field and 2 of 14 from 3-point range.
Portsmouth was 16 of 42 from the floor but 16 of 24 at the foul line. Ironton was hurt with early foul trouble as Trevor White picked up two fouls in the first quarter and Aaron Stephens had three in the first half.
Leading scorer Zac Carter got in foul trouble in the second half and eventually fouled out with 1:47 left.
Ironton couldn’t find any offense in the first half. In fact, it disappeared the final 10:34.
Fletcher made the second of two foul shots at the 2:34 mark of the second quarter and Ironton trailed 8-5. The Fighting Tigers didn’t score the rest of the half.
Ironton missed on all 10 field goal attempts in the second quarter and Carter was scoreless in the half as he went 0-for-5.
Portsmouth’s offense was better, but not substantially. The Trojans were 3 of 11 in the second quarter but benefited from 3-pointers by Zaide Whitley and Dion McKinley.
Whitley hit his triple to make it 23-5 but it came at the 4:05 mark and the Trojans were scoreless the rest of the half.
Ironton began to pick up the pace in the third quarter by outscoring Portsmouth 17-11. Fletcher hit a 35-footer at the buzzer to cut the deficit to 34-22.
“That was the break we needed to get us from 15 points to 12,” said LaFon.
Ironton’s defense forced the Trojans into seven turnovers in the third quarter.
“I’m proud of them for their growth. They didn’t quit and fought through it and cut it to five,” said LaFon. “But Portmsouth is not going to lay down. We made a couple of mistakes and they adjusted with Zac out.
“We had to do everything perfect. We held them off for a long time, but you can’t be perfect in this game because it’s so fast. We just dug ourselves such a big hole.”
After Fletcher got Ironton within 37-32, Jayllen Carter had a layup and a foul shot to make it 40-32. Ironton trailed 42-36 with 2:05 left after two free throws by Carter, but he was called for a charging foul and was done for the evening.
Len Collins and Jayllen Carter each made two foul shots and the Trojans were up 46-36 with 1:08 left.
Carter and Fletcher led Ironton with 13 points each. Fletcher also had 13 rebounds while Stephens grabbed eight and White, Carter and Nolan Johnson had six each.
Whitley had 12 points and Wayne Evans 11 to lead Portsmouth (23-2). Dion McKinley was held to nine points and he had eight rebounds.
Portsmouth will play Ottawa-Glandorft at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday in the state semifinals at the Schottenstein Center on the campus of Ohio State University.
Ironton 5 0 17 18 = 40
Portsmouth 13 10 11 16 = 50
IRONTON (19-5): Zac Carter 3 0 7-9 13, Trey Fletcher 3 2 1-3 13, Trevor White 2 0 0-2 4, Josh Glover 3 0 0-0 6, Aaron Stephens 0 0 0-0 0, Nolan Johnson 2 0 0-2 4, Tanner Dutey 0 0 0-0 0, Darrius Boykin 0 0 0-0 0. Team totals: 15-54 8-13 = 40. 3-point goals: 2-14. Rebounds 21-24 = 45. (Fletcher 13, Stephens 8). Team rebounds: 4. Assists: 5 (Dutey 2). Steals: 5 (Carter 4). Turnovers: 19. Fouls: 22. Fouled out: Carter (4th 1:47), Stephens (4th 1:37).
PORTSMOUTH (22-2): Zaide Whitely 3 1 3-4 12, Jayllen Carter 2 0 4-6 8, Len Collins 0 0 4-4 4, Wayne Evans 3 0 5-9 11, Dion McKinley 3 1 0-1 9, Mason Jordan 0 0 0-0 0, Duke Edwards 2 0 0-0 4, Seth Bratchett 1 0 0-0 2. Team totals: 16-42 16-24 = 50. 3-point goals: 2-17. Rebounds: 7-21 = 28 (McKinley 8). Team rebounds: 2. Assists: 5 (Whitely 2). Steals: 10 (McKinley 3). Turnovers: 11. Fouls: 16. Fouled out: None.