Mountain Heritage scored the first 10 points of the second half Thursday night, then held off a determined Polk County rally in the fourth period en route to a 66-59 Western Highlands Conference victory at Polk.
In handing Polk its third consecutive loss, the Cougars (2-6, 2-0) built a 38-23 lead midway through the third period with that 10-0 run, then held the Wolverines at bay with solid free throw shooting in the final quarter, finishing the game 21-of-29 at the foul line.
Yet save for that third-period stretch and another in the first, the Wolverines (4-5, 0-2) more than held their own against the Cougars, which left head coach Josh McEntire even more frustrated with the early and late lulls.
“We had too many lapses where we were not giving great effort,” McEntire said. “There were too many times when we were not getting back on defense or not boxing out. We’re still not doing the little things we need to do to beat a good team.”
Mountain Heritage led by 14 early in the fourth period when Polk County began to rally. Wes Mullis scored six points in two possessions, converting passes from Saquan Miller into layups while being fouled and making the free throws, to trim the deficit to 54-46 with 5:16 remaining.
The margin shrank to five with 3:17 left when Wes Brady hit a 3-pointer from the wing, but the Wolverines could get no closer until 18 seconds remained, when Jaron Bontrager hit a 3-pointer while being fouled to pull Polk within 63-59. Bontrager’s ensuing free throw, though, spun out, and Heritage added 3-of-4 foul shots in the final 16 seconds to clinch the win.
“I told them we played half a basketball game and still had a chance to win,” McEntire said. “We’ve still got to learn to do those things for four quarters. When we decide to do things for four quarters, we’re going to have a chance to compete for the conference championship.”
Polk scored the game’s first two points, but Heritage got back-to-back 3-pointers to ignite a 17-2 run that gave the Cougars a 17-4 lead with 2:11 left in the first period. Mountain Heritage was able to consistently spread the Polk defense, then either drive the lane for baskets or hit players cutting to the basket for scores, a trend that would replay throughout the evening.
“That’s people not talking on defense and not helping on defense,” McEntire said. “When you’re playing man-to-man, one, you’ve got to stop the ball. Two, you’ve got to be willing to help on the weak side. We’re not following our rules we’ve had all year long.”
The Wolverines survived that early punch, though, and fought back in the second period. Mullis scored four points and Miller hit a 3-pointer in a 7-0 spurt that cut Heritage’s lead to 21-18 with 4:14 left in the second. The margin eventually dropped to two, 25-23, late in the period before the Cougars got three late points on free throws for a 28-23 halftime lead.
Mullis had 14 points, Bontrager had 12 and Miller had 11 to lead the Wolverines.
“It’s been a tough week. Injuries, sickness and other things off the court, it’s not been a fun week,” McEntire said. “But when Polk County takes the floor, no matter who’s out there, they’ve got to go out and compete.”
Polk County Scoring
Wes Mullis 14, Jaron Bontrager 12, Saquan Miller 11, Wes Brady 9, Anthony Carson 4, Daniel Painter 3, Jordan Smith 2, Jamal Tanner 2, Jason Chupp 2.