As East Rutherford grabbed an early five-point overtime lead, Polk County head coach Lemont Jones stayed true to the group he expected to panic the least.
“Senior leadership,” Jones said. “Those guys want to win. I left the seniors out there.”
And win, the Wolverines did, those seniors leading a rally that resulted in a 72-66 victory over the Cavaliers in Polk’s home and season opener.
That the contest entered overtime perhaps came as no surprise after a back-and-forth tussle in which neither team ever led by more than six points in regulation.
An East Rutherford basket with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter forced the extra four minutes, and the Cavaliers built on that with five quick points to grab a 60-55 lead with 2:58 left in overtime.
Polk’s Brett Bagwell and Tyler Staley answered with baskets to cut the margin to one, and Staley followed another East score with a 3-pointer to tie the game at 62-62 with 1:54 left.
East clung to a 66-65 edge entering overtime’s final minute, but Bagwell grabbed a missed Polk shot and kicked a pass out to an open Staley at the 3-point stripe. The senior calmly drilled the three for a 68-66 Wolverine lead with 49 seconds remaining.
Wesley Royster then forced an East turnover that would eventually lead to a Bagwell layup with 24 seconds left. Staley hit two free throws with 4.8 seconds remaining for the final margin.
“It’s good to win your opener and also good to win against your neighbors,” Jones said. “We’ve got a good group of kids who didn’t panic or didn’t flinch even though we got out-athleted at certain spots.
“I’m proud of these kids. They work hard. I wish people knew just how hard these guys work.”
East (0-2) led 18-15 at the end of the first period and upped the margin to 21-15 before Polk held the Cavaliers scoreless for some six minutes while going on a 10-0 run, taking a 25-21 edge with 1:27 left in the half. A Dominique Carson layup made it 27-22 with 1:07 to go before the Vikings scored the final four points of the half for a 27-26 Polk lead at the break.
Staley had 10 points in overtime and finished with 28 points, including six 3-pointers, to lead Polk County. Carson added 24 points, with Bagwell scoring 12.
Royster scored six points, with Bryson Edwards adding two.
Polk County is slated to return to the court on Jan. 15 at Madison.