Polk County Middle lost its home opener Tuesday by a third.
No new basketball math involved, though – the Wolverines failed to score in the third quarter, part of a scoreless spell of more than eight minutes that helped Smoky Mountain Middle escape with a 39-35 victory in Blue Ridge Conference boys basketball play.
Polk Middle (0-2) proved the better team on either side of that scoring drought, and the Wolverines had a number of good looks at the basket within that time where shots spun around the rim and dropped out.
But the dry spell turned a 25-16 lead into a 37-25 deficit, a 21-point Mustang run that ultimately decided the evening’s outcome.
“We came out flat in the third quarter, which is something we’ve been working on,” said Polk Middle head coach Brad Muse. “Losing’s easy, but wins, you’ve got to work for. That third quarter killed us. If we come out with the same passion we had coming in at halftime, it’s a different ball game altogether.”
Polk Middle regained its pre-halftime momentum in the fourth quarter, though, and the Wolverines nearly made a remarkable comeback.
Polk finally snapped that scoreless spell on Luke Garrison’s 3-pointer with 4:27 remaining, cutting the 12-point margin to nine. Dallas Littlejohn put back a missed shot at the 2:25 mark, and Ross Dow hit a driving layup with less than a minute remaining to trim the deficit to 37-32.
Smoky Mountain’s J.J. Gary hit a free throw with 32 seconds left to make it 38-32, but Nate Fagan swished a long 3-pointer from the top of the key with 11 seconds left to make it 38-35.
Gary, though, hit another free throw with six seconds left to seal the win.
“I’m extremely proud of this team,” Muse said. “Last year, we’re going in there saying you made this mistake, you made this mistake. Now we’re competitive. We’ve got to make adjustments, we’ve got to learn to finish. But they’re a much different team, a well-rounded team. We have a lot of weapons this year. We’ve just got to put it together and learn to win.”
Fagan and Garrison each had nine points to pace Polk Middle, with Hollis Williams scoring six. Ross Dow had five, with Kevan Simpson adding four and Littlejohn scoring two.
The Wolverines remain at home Thursday, hosting Apple Valley Middle in their first BRC East Division game of the season.