Both teams came in sporting impressive 10-1 records, both are very similar in talent, and both are well coached -- something had to give.
The game went to the wire as expected, but it was the visiting Bulldogs who escaped with a win. Despite second half heroics by standout sophomore Kendrickus Reed, the Tigers went down in defeat 69-65.
"I was fully expecting it to (go down to the end) and it did," said Caruthersville head coach Brian Brandtner. "We've got a long ways to go and Portageville exposed some of our weaknesses."
Reed netted 18 second-half points to led all scorers with 20 points. Plessie Ellitt added 18 for the Tigers while Kyle Hubbard chipped in 13 before fouling out.
Given all the similarities between the two squads, one major difference did stand out. The first string players were comparable, however, Coach Jim Bidewell's depth off the bench heavily factored into making the Bulldogs rather dangerous.
Ten different Bulldogs saw action and nine got into the scoring column. Six of them hit at least one three-pointer. Willie Hassell led PHS with 16, Jordan Penn scored 14 and Jimmy Larry finished with 11 to round out the double digit scorers.
"Beating them (Caruthersville) is a better scenario for us down here because we know how tough they are," Bidewell said. "The bad part about it is we have done the same thing for the last two or three years -- beating them the first time we meet then losing to them later on."
The game was destined to be a barnburner immediately following the opening tip.
The Tigers' Symone Branch scored easily on the first possession, prompting Bidewell to call one of the quickest timeouts on record with 7:47 still showing.
A minute into the second quarter, Portageville's backup center Jacob Summerton (6-foot-5, jr.) was left wide open and surprised the Tigers with a three-pointer that hit nothing but net.
Hassell, Penn and Cory Chamberlain netted threes and Scott had a deuce to account for the Bulldogs' 39-31 lead at the break.
Caruthersville outscored Portageville 18-16 in the third, but still trailed 55-49.
The Bulldogs forced the Tigers into a matchup zone by operating from a spread offense throughout the final period. However, Caruthersville was able to slowly close the gap and pulled within two, 53-55 on a layup by Kenny Hamilton.
Later with 2:05 to go, the Tigers trailed 62-57 after Reed scored back-to-back baskets. The Tiger fans exploded out of their seats when Sanders popped a trey from the corner to slice the deficit to two with under a minute left.
Ellitt hit a pair of freebies with 28 seconds remaining, but they were negated as Spencer Martin calmly stepped to the line and hit two for a 66-62 PHS lead. Reed answered with a bucket-and-one to set the Tigers final score.
Larry notched two free throws to make it 68-65 in favor of the visitors. Caruthersville used its last timeout to set up a play for a 3-pointer, but Hubbard was off the mark twice. The Tigers' last chance resulted in a steal by Hassell at midcourt. Hubbard fouled out on the play and Hassell added one free throw with 9.9 showing to set the Bulldogs' final tally.
"As much as we wanted to beat Portageville tonight in our house, this game isn't the one that matters right now," Brandtner said.