Polk County’s boys basketball squad delivered one of its best defensive efforts of the season Wednesday night against Avery.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, so did Avery.
The Vikings held Polk County to five fourth-quarter points, including a scoreless stretch of more than six minutes, en route to a 47-40 win in Western Highlands Conference action at Polk County.
With leading scorer Jamal Tanner sidelined for at least another week with a broken bone in his left hand, the Wolverines (4-6, 0-3) still kept pace with Avery (10-4, 2-0) for the first three quarters. Neither team led by more than five points in those first three periods, the teams typically trading baskets on a night where defense reigned supreme.
Polk County grabbed a 37-36 lead with 7:08 left in the final quarter when Saquan Miller hit a short jumper from the baseline. The Wolverines wouldn’t score again until 36 seconds remained in the game, Jaron Bontrager hitting three free throws at that point. By then, Avery had a 47-37 lead and its fourth straight win locked away.
“We weren’t being patient, we were taking too many tough jump shots,” said Polk County head coach Josh McEntire of the fourth quarter woes. “We weren’t moving the ball, taking one or two passes and then taking a tough jump shot.
“The kind of defense they play, they like to slough off everybody. We call it 20 Slough, where they’re going to make sure they protect the paint. If you don’t move and make them move, they can stay packed in there. We just didn’t move enough. When you move, you can expand them and get openings. Of course, if you’ve got great shooting, you can beat that defense, too, but we didn’t shoot the ball very well tonight.”
The game marked the third time this season that the Wolverines held an opponent under 50 points and only the second time this season that Avery, which entered averaging 58.5 points per game, failed to score at least 50.
“Defensively, that was out best game of the year,” McEntire said. “Defensively, we played great. We just didn’t have enough at the end. You hold somebody to 47, you’ve got to win that ball game.”
The first half featured two quarters that followed an oddly similar pattern. Polk County’s Wes Brady opened both periods with 3-pointers, Avery built four-period leads midway through each and the Wolverines fought back in both. The opening session ended in an 11-11 tie, the second with Avery taking a 24-23 lead at the half. Scoring was at a premium from the opening tip, and Polk also had to battle a taller Avery lineup that made every rebound a battle.
“They had three kids on the court bigger than anyone we’ve got,” McEntire said. “They’re big and strong and their guards and strong and they do a great job offensively crashing the boards and defensively securing the rebound. They’re not real big on getting out and running with the basketball. They want to secure it and go down and run their offense and they’re very good at what they do.”
After trading baskets for the first four minutes of the third period, Avery built a 34-29 lead with 2:09 left in the quarter. Brady then scored a layup off a nice pass from Bontrager in transition, Anthony Carson added a fast-break basket and Bontrager hit a short jumper to rally the Wolverines to a 35-34 lead at the end of the period.
Polk would still hold that lead when Miller scored in the final quarter’s first minute. But the Wolverines’ first game since Dec. 19 would then turn in Avery’s favor.
“It’s hard to go 20 days without playing. It’s almost like the first game of the season again,” McEntire said. “But I was definitely happy defensively. Offensively, we did some good things, we just didn’t do them consistently enough.”
Polk County Scoring
Jaron Bontrager 10, Wes Brady 8, Anthony Carson 6, Wes Mullis 6, Saquan Miller 4, Daniel Painter 3, Jordan Smith 3