By JOE RUSSO
For the Sun Rise
The Johnston boys’ basketball team needed a win on Tuesday night, and it would come up with a 63-59 victory over Portsmouth at Johnston High School, as the Panthers held off the Patriots in the final minutes of the game to up their Division II record to 2-5.
The Panthers’ Dylan Durante showed why he is one of the top scorers in the state as he netted a game-high 27 points, 21 of them coming in the second half.
Johnston fell behind 4-0 early in the game, and after a quick timeout, Cameron Iasimone and Durante each hit 3-point shots to get Johnston on the board. Cameron Sabitoni’s 3 gave the Panthers their first lead of the game, 14-12.
Anthony Tavares scored seven quick points to give the home team a 24-20 lead, and Sabitoni would hit a 3 as the first half expired, giving the Panthers a 27-26 lead and momentum going into the break.
Johnston sunk seven 3-point shots in the first half and 13 total for the game, seven of them by Durante.
“Durante can open up the defense,” said Johnston head coach Dan Mazzulla. “This is one of his better games. The last couple of games they were keying on him and he played more composed tonight.”
The Panthers would pull away from the Patriots in the second half thanks to the shooting of Durante, who nailed five 3-pointers down the stretch.
Tavares, who scored 12 points in the game, came up with a big three-point play, and Durante’s 3 off an inbound pass gave his team a 49-40 lead with 6:30 remaining in the game.
The Panthers let Portsmouth back in the game by missing some late free throws, as they saw their 10-point lead shrink to four after a John Skizypiec bucket. Skizypiec would score a team-high 17 points.
But, the Panthers’ Jason Canton and Andrew Zalisk did manage to sink three big free throws in the final minute to secure the win for Johnston.
“We lost our composure the last couple of minutes in the game by missing some free throws,” Mazzulla said. “We still have to mature and grow up, and our basketball I.Q. is not very high, but we just have to learn the game.”
Durante spoke about how the win is more important than scoring points.
“I just want to be a leader on the team,” he said. “I just want to come out and practice hard. It’s not really about the points, it’s about getting wins. My team did a great job getting me the ball in the second half and I love my team. I wouldn’t want to play for any other team. This is a very big win for us. We just have to play hard and practice hard every day and get some more wins this season.”
The Panthers will look to build on this win tomorrow night when they host Tolman at 7 p.m. They will then travel to Shea on Monday and return home next Friday to face Narragansett.
“This is a very big win tonight, but we can’t rest on one victory,” Mazzulla said.