There will be lessons learned from Friday’s overtime loss to Landrum that will benefit Polk County in the heat of conference play, head coach Josh McEntire noted after the game in the silence of the Wolverines’ locker room area.
But that didn’t make the events that led to that knowledge gained any easier to stomach for those in white and royal blue.
Polk County built a 21-point third-quarter lead, then watched Landrum steadily chip away to send the game into overtime, then pull away for an 85-76 non-conference victory at Polk.
A near-capacity crowd packed Polk’s gym for the latest meeting in this border rivalry series, and each side had much to cheer about, albeit at different times. Polk County (2-2) built a 41-27 halftime lead, then extended that margin to 50-29 with 6:28 left in the third period.
But the Cardinals (2-0) began to chip away at the deficit, finding gaps in Polk’s pressure defense and hitting shots that, up until that point, had not been falling. By quarter’s end, Landrum cut the gap to 12, yet still trailed by 13 when Saquan Miller hit a layup at the 7:02 mark for a 67-54 lead.
Polk didn’t score again until Miller did so with 3:01 left. In that four-minute span, Landrum tallied 12 points, cutting the margin to 67-66. Miller’s basket pushed the lead back to three, but Landrum then scored back-to-back baskets to take a 70-69 edge with 1:50 left.
On Polk’s next possession, Jaron Bontrager delivered what looked to be a game-saving play, hitting a long 3-pointer while being fouled. Bontrager added the free throw for a rare four-point play that gave the Wolverines a 73-70 lead with 1:30 left.
Still up by a point, the Wolverines got another play a minute later that made it seem like victory was destined to be theirs, with a short Landrum shot sticking in the space between the rim and backboard with 30 seconds left. That resulted in a jump ball call that gave possession back to Polk. A Jamal Tanner free throw upped Polk’s lead to 74-72 before Landrum scored seconds later to force the tie. Each team had one more possession in the final 20 seconds but failed to score.
Momentum clearly on its side, Landrum roared away in overtime, holding Polk to a single basket. Landrum’s Jonah Corn scored 10 of his game-high 29 points in overtime to lead the Cardinals.
“With four minutes to go in the third quarter, we just quit playing defense,” McEntire said. “We kept switching defenses but we couldn’t get the players where they needed to be. Give them credit, they hit shots and hit shots and hit shots. They did a super job fighting back.
“Every non-conference game is a learning experience. I know this is a rivalry and everybody gets up for it, but each non-conference game is a learning opportunity, a chance to find out something about our team. We put the teams in tough situations and see how they respond.”
Miller had 21 points, Bontrager had 14 and Wes Brady had 11 to lead Polk, who scored the game’s first four points and never trailed until the final two minutes of the game. Trevor Walker added 27 points for Landrum, who will host Polk County on Tuesday
“We learned that we have to keep doing the little things, that you can’t take any possessions off on defense,” McEntire said. “You have to keep playing defense and keep getting after it. We learned that the tough way tonight.”
Polk County Scoring
Saquan Miller 21, Jaron Bontrager 14, Wes Brady 11, Jamal Tanner 9, Anthony Carson 8, Will Ballard 5, Jordan Smith 4, Wes Mullis 4