It’s called Senior Night for a reason.
Ask Alex Portwood.
The only senior regularly in the rotation for the St. Ambrose men’s basketball team had a career night Wednesday to lead the Fighting Bees to a needed 75-53 victory over Trinity Christian at Lee Lohman Arena.
Portwood doubled his previous career high with a 26-point performance that strengthened the chances St. Ambrose has of a top-four finish in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference and the opportunity to begin postseason play at home.
"We had a tough loss a couple of nights ago and even though that game was outside of our conference, it was important for us come back strong and get back to winning," Portwood said. "This was big for our seeding, and just to get back to playing the way we can."
Portwood entered the game averaging 4.1 and 18 minutes per game for the Fighting Bees, but as his shots continued to fall he earned 29 minutes against the Trolls.
"It was Senior Night, and I thought the ball my find its way to me a few more times, but I didn’t expect this," said Portwood, who went 8-of-13 from the field and scored 20 of his points in the second half to help St. Ambrose pull away to the win.
Coach Ray Shovlain rewarded the only five seniors on the Bees’ roster with starts in their final regular-season home game and was able to allow that group to play the final two minutes of the game after St. Ambrose found its shooting touch in the second half.
The Fighting Bees shot 57.7 percent from the field in the second half, hitting 15-of-26 shots from the field after connecting on just 29.7 percent of 37 attempts in the opening 20 minutes.
Despite the slow start, the beginnings of a 54-33 rebounding advantage and taking care of the basketball allowed St. Ambrose to open a 33-24 lead by halftime.
"We didn’t shoot it, but I felt like we were relentless in the first half in the way we went to the boards and how we pursued the loose balls, the 50-50 balls," Shovlain said. "That energy and enthusiasm, it gave us a chance to open the halftime lead we had."
John Kerr, who finished with 12 points and 17 rebounds, joined Portwood in helping the Bees extend that edge in the second half.
Trinity International (7-21, 3-16 CCAC) had trimmed a double-digit deficit to 49-45 just past the midpoint of the second half.
"When they threw the press at us, we kept on attacking, kept going right at it and that helped us keep moving forward," Shovlain said.
Lay-ins by Jalen Jones, Ben Schols and Kerr fueled a 16-5 run that ended with 10 straight points by Portwood and left St. Ambrose (17-11, 12-7) in control 65-50 with 5 minutes, 14 seconds remaining.
"I was able to get in a decent rhythm and hit some shots," said Portwood, who also grabbed six rebounds and dished out three assists. "The motion that we added to our offense around Christmas, it’s helped me. Guys are setting some screens, I’m able to run some curls and get some looks. Tonight, it was one of those nights. I was just glad to help our team."