Eight was enough Thursday for Polk County’s boys basketball team.
Missing two frontcourt starters, the Wolverines still built a double-digit lead in the second half and hung on late to hand Owen a 56-52 loss in a key Western Highlands Conference matchup.
The victory keeps Polk County (5-2, 4-2) neck-and-neck with Mitchell for second place in the Western Highlands Conference as well as tied with the Mountaineers as the conference’s top 1A squad. Owen dropped to 3-6, 3-4.
The Wolverines didn’t have Bryson Edwards, Chan Barber, Omar Carson or Briar Underwood in uniform, but still made the most of the eight players who were available. Polk built an eight-point lead at the end of the third period, then got a 3-pointer from Tyler Staley to open the fourth quarter and take a 45-34 lead, the first double-digit margin of the night.
The Wolverines still led by 11 with 5:20 left, but Owen began to slowly chip away at the deficit. The Warhorses drew within seven at the three-minute mark, then five with a minute remaining.
And then began a free-throw shooting contest; the two teams went to the foul line a combined 16 times in the final 59 seconds. Polk was just 4-of-12 at the stripe in that span – and 12-of-27 for the night – but Owen couldn’t take advantage, never getting closer than four points.
“That’s not us,” said Polk County head coach Lemont Jones of the free-throw woes. “We left a lot of easy points on the floor. That’s disturbing. But I’ll take a win. A conference win is always good.
“Some of those second-team guys got promoted to the starting lineup and kept on marching. Kanye (Staley), Brandon (West) and Brett (Bagwell) filled in pretty well.”
A tight first half began to tilt Polk County’s way in the latter half of the second period. Dominque Carson had four 3-pointers and 14 points in the quarter, helping the Wolverines surge to a 31-25 lead at the break.
Owen quickly cut the gap to two points after halftime, but Tyler Staley and Kris Littlejohn had 3-pointers in a run that ended with a Carson steal and layup just before the buzzer, giving Polk its 42-34 lead entering the final eight minutes.
Carson finished with 20 points, with Tyler Staley scoring 12. Wesley Royster had seven points, with Bagwell scoring six, Littlejohn finishing with five, Kanye Staley scoring three and Shaq Wingo adding two.
The Wolverines are scheduled to return to action on Wednesday, traveling to Madison, as Tuesday’s WHC home game with Avery has been shifted to Saturday, Feb. 13.