ST. GEORGES – Polytech's boys basketball team had watched several double-digit leads disappear against Howard in Saturday's nonconference matchup, and Howard even managed to take a two-point lead in the final minute on the last two of Lamar Woody's 34 points. But Miguel Rivera turned a steal at midcourt into a breakaway layup with 10 seconds left to boost the Panthers to an exciting 68-64 win.
The teams met at St. Georges Technical High School, the first of four games on the day. The Rumble by the River, now in its third year, features four teams from New Castle County against four from Kent and Sussex County. Score the first one for downstate.
Howard had a chance to tie or take the lead on its last possession, but Polytech forced a turnover. Carter Chasanov made a pair of free throws to provide the final margin. Panthers coach John Pierce was pleased with how his team responded to the pressure.
“It shows that we've got grit. For us to grit like we did today, I'm real proud of the guys,” he said. “If we gang and help each other out, we'll be fine.”
The Panthers knew Woody would get his points, but Rivera said keeping tabs on the other Wildcats was a key.
“We knew who we were going up against. He's going to get his. We just have to limit everyone else,” Rivera said.
The Panthers took a 48-45 lead into the fourth quarter and quickly extended the lead to 54-46, thanks in large part to Brendan Davis, who had two field goals in succession. But the Wildcats, paced by Woody, fought back, finally knotting the contest at 58 on two free throws with 2:36 on the clock. Polytech went ahead again, 61-58, but four straight from Howard's Shawn Bowman put his team in front by a point.
After Woody's follow-up from 12 feet that gave Howard that last lead, Polytech's Jaeden Dungee scored on a runner, setting up Rivera's heroics.
The Panthers had established their big leads thanks to their accurate shooting, particularly from three-point range, in the first half. Dungee had a pair of triples, and Rivera and Joseph Haas added one each. Polytech also used a ball-hawking defense to help make up for its lack of size, turning several Howard turnovers into transition points. Nine players scored for the Panthers in the first half, and 11 had points by the time the game was over.
“Our team is more of a share the ball team,” Dungee said. “We try to run the ball and get easy layups, easy mid-ranges, and that's what we did today.”
Another difference in the contest was the free-throw shooting. Woody was 11 of 15 from the line, but the rest of the Wildcats made just four of 18 attempts. Polytech was successful on 22 of 32 attempts; Chasanov was a perfect seven for seven.
Dungee led the Panthers with 16 points, while Chasanov added 15. Polytech won its fourth straight after opening the season with two losses, a good sign to Pierce.
“We're really inexperienced. I think we have one or two players who have varsity experience for us, but for everybody else this is new. I have high expectations for us, but I know it's going to be an up-and-down thing for us because we're inexperienced,” he said.
The Panthers are off until Jan. 3, when Smyrna visits Woodside for a 7:15 p.m. start.
Bowman joined Woody in double figures, scoring 13 points. The Wildcats (2-3) visit Ferris School on Dec. 30 at 12:30 p.m.