It might not have been the shot that Polk County wanted, but it proved exactly what the Wolverines needed.
With Polk clinging to a one-point lead over Avery in the waning seconds Friday, Wolverine guard Shaq Wingo found himself with the ball and wide open on the wing at the 3-point line. Wingo calmly launched a shot that cleanly swished through the net with 28 seconds left, helping lift Polk to a 41-36 victory in the Western Highlands Conference opener for both teams.
The low-scoring affair reflected an evening in which points were at a premium. Both teams struggled from the field, but the Wolverines (4-8, 1-0) less so than Avery (3-8, 0-1) as they looked to make up for the absence of injured leading scorer Dominique Carson with a patient half-court offense, often eating up long periods of time while working to create an open shot.
“It was good to win without 23 (Carson),” said Polk County head coach Lemont Jones. “It was a chance to play in an intense situation with our young guys. It was very challenging toward the end, and we struggled a little with situations on the floor and playing without our offensive fireplug.
“We’d love to have him, but to see our guys out there pulling together and showing unity is good to see.”
Avery opened the third quarter with a basket to take a 20-13 lead, then didn’t score again until the fourth period, going some eight minutes without a point. That allowed the Wolverines to finally pull even at 20-20 on a Tyler Staley layup, with Bryson Edwards then scoring on a rebound and Keyandre Thomas adding a layup late in the quarter to give Polk a 24-20 lead entering the fourth.
The Wolverines extended the lead to 31-24 early in the final period, scoring five points in 11 seconds as Wesley Royster hit a 3-pointer, then a turnover led to a Thomas layup. Avery, though, began to slice into the lead, and tied the score at 33-33 with 2:37 remaining.
Brett Bagwell hit a layup seconds later to return the edge to Polk, and Edwards added a free throw with 2:13 left to make it 36-33. After the Vikings’ Silas Barinowski hit two free throws with 1:35 lead to cut the lead to one, Polk looked to kill the clock and passed the ball around the perimeter until Wingo drained his 3-point attempt.
Thomas and Edwards each added free throws in the final 19 seconds to seal the win and allow the Wolverines to match their win total from last season.
Thomas finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds, with Edwards adding nine points and 11 rebounds. Royster had seven points and seven rebounds, with Wingo adding five points.
Staley also had five points, plus five rebounds and four steals, while Bagwell finished with two points.
“We played well,” Jones said. “We made some pressure mistakes, but we still hung on. It was a good win. It’s always good to win.”
Polk County travels to Madison on Tuesday for another WHC matchup.