Zaire Baines #23 of Portledge, right, gets pressured on defense...

Zaire Baines #23 of Portledge, right, gets pressured on defense by Xavier Lewis #2 of Half Hollow Hills East during the third quarter of a non-league boys basketball game at Chaminade High School in Mineola on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.  Credit: James Escher

The Portledge boys basketball team made one thing clear when it took the court on Saturday afternoon – defense will be their top priority, no matter the time or score.

“We all try to focus on defense,” said sophomore Zaire Baines, who had 27 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals as Portledge used a swarming fullcourt press to defeat Half Hollow Hills East, 89-57, in the Lieutenant Frank Haggerty Memorial Basketball Tournament at Chaminade. “Defense is the key to every win, no matter what.”

Applying fullcourt pressure from the opening tip, the Panthers took quick 12-0 lead with 4:35 left in the first quarter before Hills East got on the board with three points. But Portledge responded with a 10-0 run, capped by a Dante Brooks layup to widen the gap to 22-3 with less than two minutes to go in the period.

Christian Daley, a transfer from St. Anthony’s, had 19 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals for the Panthers. He said Portledge (3-0) places plenty of emphasis on playing fast from the opening tip.

“It’s important,” Daley said. “We like getting out to a quick start and getting the lead. And then we don’t hold back from there.”

Even after entering halftime with a 48-22 lead, the Panthers continued to cause problems for Hills East (0-1) with their press, resulting in a slew of turnovers that led to several easy opportunities in transition. Portledge went on an 11-0 run led by Baines and Daley to open the second half.

Brooks scored 17 points and Jahmir Primer added 13 points and eight assists, further displaying Portledge’s depth of playmakers. Portledge, however, continued to demonstrate its unyielding defensive intensity by pressing through the final buzzer.

“It’s practice,” Baines said. “We focus on defense and pressing no matter what. Coach told us to focus on defense. It’s a team effort. When one man is down we help him up, and if one man is beat we help and recover. Defense is the key to everything.”

Xavier Lewis, brother of former Hills East standout Savion Lewis, led Hills East with 17 points. Dante Green, brother of Lakers shooting guard Danny Green, had 15 points.

Although Portledge coach Nicholas Tsikitas called the performance a good win, he said he is far from satisfied. Tsikitas also explained his reasoning for his relentless defensive philosophy.

“We play a style of almost organized chaos,” Tsikitas said. “We’re a position-less team and almost no lead is big enough for us because of our size so we look to expand it on every point.”

After making a run to the PSAA semifinals last season, Tsikitas believes the addition of Daley alongside Baines, the crafty lefty who averaged 34.2 points per game last season, will be significant for Portledge this year.

“Christian was a major pickup,” Tsikitas said. “Another knockdown shooter and someone else who causes opponents to work away from Zaire.”

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