Bulls

Boatright leads East Aurora over Batavia

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Boatright leads East Aurora over Batavia

Friday, Feb. 25, 2011
11:10 PM

By Brian Miller
YourSeason.com

There was no way East Aurora guard Ryan Boatright was walking out of the Tomcats' gym Friday night with anything but a happy ending.

Boatright scored 23 of his 33 points in the second half and single-handedly willed East in a mesmerizing fourth quarter to lead the Tomcats to a 63-59 victory over Batavia in an Upstate Eight Conference crossover home finale on senior night.

"We wanted to be on a roll entering the playoffs," said Boatright, also had nine rebounds, five assists and three steals. "I knew I had to make something happen for us to win. They were doing a good job doubling me, trying to get the ball out of my hands right away, basically saying the rest of my team's gotta beat them."

Despite a pair of No. 24's for each team being out-- leading scorer Jesse Coffey (illness) for Batavia and sharpshooter Letrell "Snoop" Viser (ankle) for East-- the Bulldogs (13-12) handled their business by using their size advantage down low to pound the Tomcats (21-5) into submission.

Cole Gardner scored 25 points to go with 17 rebounds and Elliott Vaughn had 11 points and 15 rebounds, not only keeping pace with East, but grabbing a four-point lead with six minutes remaining in the fourth.

"We had some good shots early at the start of the game, they just weren't dropping," Bulldogs coach Jim Roberts said. "

Batavia finished the fourth quarter alone with 10 offensive rebounds.

"Batavia is well-coached and they came to play," Tomcats coach Wendell Jeffries said. "We got up on them early and then they came back, took a four-point lead. And then Ryan Boatright really stepped up and showed why he's going to play in the Big East."

After that lead, Boatright made a play on every East possession.

He knocked down two free throws, went coast-to-coast for hard-earned layups on two straights possessions, knocked down two more free throws, assisted to teammate Bryan Robinson, and hit a jumper.

Then he hit perhaps his biggest shot of the night, a deep three from the left wing that gave East a 55-51 lead with 1:35 left, simultaneously bringing the crowd to its feet in a roar.

"It was game time," Boatright said. "As soon as the fourth quarter came I knew it was in me, it was hammer time, time to go. That three just came off emotion and a lot of hard work. I shoot that shot a lot of times in practice and a lot of times after practice."

Boatright came right back after that shot and stole a ball, assisting to Dominique Johnson for a layup before hitting another free throw a moment later to give East a 58-51 lead.

"He did some things in the fourth quarter that were magical," Roberts said. "He took over, but we didn't do ourselves any favors by going 7-for-20 shooting in the fourth quarter."

East seniors Johnson and John Williams (17 points) sealed the win with clutch free throws in the waning seconds, while Tom Okapal had 15 rebounds.

The only way East will see its familiar court again will be by winning the Bolingbrook 4A Regional, in which they are seeded first, to reach the sectional it will host.

The Tomcats will have to get through an opening round match and a potential third-time matchup with Neuqua Valley, meaning their are no guarantees, making Boatright's last regular season performance all the more special to him and to the fans who watched him play for four years.

"I wanted to leave with a bang," Boatright said. "I want people to remember me for something good, remember my last game. If it was a move, a shot, the win period, I wanted them to remember me because I don't know if we'll make it back here."

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.