BOYS BASKETBALL: Patton escapes gritty Polk effort with late clinching surge
Published 11:53 am Monday, January 29, 2024
Polk County could have used a few more things Friday – points and players, especially.
What the Wolverines did not lack was hustle, hard work and determination – and that nearly led to one of the biggest upsets of the 2023-24 season.
Polk County led Mountain Foothills 7 Conference leader Patton for much of the evening, but the Panthers eventually eked out a 63-54 victory over the homestanding Wolverines.
Gritty efforts are becoming the trademark of this Polk County squad, especially in recent games, and because of that head coach Daniel Bradley thinks more wins are coming in the closing weeks of the season.
“Everybody laid it all on the line tonight,” Bradley said. “We’re just a little bit undermanned, but the guys that were in there gave all the heart they had.
“Great effort. We just ran a little thin at the end. Getting in foul trouble hurt us, but the guys that were in there really, really pushed and worked for the whole game.”
Greatly helping the Wolverines’ cause was its performance on the defensive boards, where Lawson Carter, Avery Harden and Aaron Jackson often came away with loose balls against Patton’s duo of 6-5 Bryson Handley and 6-6 Chandler Rutherford.
Harden fouled out with 4:54 remaining, and the Wolverines scored for the final time with 4:01 to go on a Khalil Austin basket. That gave Polk a 54-51 edge, but Patton (17-2, 7-0) closed the game on a 12-0 run, taking advantage of a tiring Polk squad.
The Wolverines took control of the game in the first quarter, with a Harden 3-pointer and three straight Gunnar Alm layups, two of those following steals, pushed Polk to an 18-11 lead.
Patton pulled within two in the second quarter, but a Nolan Simpson 3-pointer highlighted a run that gave Polk County a 36-28 lead at halftime.
The Panthers briefly took the lead late in the third quarter, but the Wolverines quickly regained the upper hand and largely held it until Patton’s end-of-game run.
“It’s a pleasure to coach these guys, and they’re working hard every day and we’re getting better,” Bradley said. “It’s a process, and we’re starting to see some results out of it.”
Alm led Polk County with 24 points, with Simpson adding 10. Jackson had six points, with Harden and Carter each scoring five and Austin finishing with four points.