When the coaches and players for Polytech’s boys basketball team got on the team bus and returned home Thursday night, they did so as the only remaining undefeated team in the Henlopen Conference.
But it wasn’t without a good old scrap in Sussex County.
Harry Johnson scored 14 points to go with six rebounds and James Mosley added 13 points and five assists to propel the fourth-ranked Panthers to a 58-48 win over Woodbridge in a physical Southern Division contest between what were two previously unbeaten teams.
They nearly got into a post-game brawl during the handshake exchange but were quickly separated, and cooler heads prevailed.
“It’s always a tough game in our conference,” Polytech coach John Pierce said of the Blue Raiders. “I guess all the hype was built up because both of us were undefeated. It was a good, hard-fought game, and you’re always happy to get a win.”
Polytech (6-0 overall, 4-0 South) trailed Woodbridge 39-36 at the start of the fourth quarter. That’s where the Panthers turned up the defensive intensity and put the game away.
Polytech scored eight unanswered points to start the final period to reclaim the lead. William Zwicharowski banked in a 3-pointer from the right side of the arc, Juwan Gray scored on a putback, Johnson sank a free throw and Richard Hicks drained a jumper as the Panthers stormed to a 44-39 advantage.
Woodbridge (4-1, 4-1) managed to score only four points in the first 6:45 of the fourth quarter. The Blue Raiders came apart at the seams by committing nine of their 19 turnovers in the final frame.
“This lets you know where your team is at and know what you need to work on,” Woodbridge coach Marvin Morris said. “When pressure hit them, they fell down. They should’ve just went on what we’ve been practicing, running our plays. We had them, and then in the fourth quarter, it just fell apart.”
Polytech couldn’t put the hammer down through the stretch as it sank just 11 of 21 of its free throws over the final eight minutes. Fortunately for the Panthers, their defense made up for it.
The defensive pressure was by design, Johnson said. The senior said the Panthers were playing without a pair of their starters and had to adjust.
“We went down in the third quarter … and we came out in the fourth quarter and I told my guys, ‘I’m going to start putting some pressure on them, and we’re going to take this game over and win this game,’ and my team came through for me,” Johnson said.
Antonio DePina contributed 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds and Gray and Zwicharowski added eight points apiece for Polytech.
Trevon Jones came off the bench to score a game-high 15 points and high-flying Shai Burbage chipped in 12 for the Blue Raiders.
“We’re young,” Morris said. “We’ve only got two people that have varsity experience from last year, and it kind of hurts. But we’ve got to get back to the drawing board.”
As for Polytech, it’s back in a familiar position – among the favorites to capture the Henlopen Conference title.
“We’ve always got the target on our backs. … All four years, I’ve had the target on my back, but we’ve been playing through it,” Johnson said. “We look good so far.”