Maybe it was a facial expression, a shoulder slumping, but coach Tom Tabb was concerned with the collective look of his Alexis I. du Pont High boys basketball team late in Tuesday night’s game at Delcastle.
But, behind strong fourth-quarter play by Elijah Agwu, the Tigers found a way to offset a brilliant, 27-point scoring night by Delcastle’s Terris Purnell and survive a frenetic, 32-minute scramble for a 56-55 nonconference victory.
“I was a little disappointed,” Tabb said, “because at one point – I think [the Cougars] had a four- or six-point lead -we had body language that said ‘we’re going to lose.’ We preach to our kids to compete every possession.”
A.I. du Pont trailed 48-43 at the close of an 11-0 Cougar burst – one of the few scoring runs in the game – with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Tigers needed something, anything – other than the numerous turnovers and missed layups among a sea of flailing arms from both sides in a game in which offensive push was blunted by defensive pressure.
“Some of the questions going into the season,” said Tabb of his 3-1 Tigers, “was, who’s going to step up to be a leader since we lost 11 players from last year’s team. Nobody pointed a finger, everybody stayed focused.”
The one constant in the final five minutes was the scoring in and around the lane by Agwu. The 6-foot-3 forward, who missed all of last season while dealing with a heart murmur, accounted for eight of the final 13 Tigers points, including the game-winner. He hit four free throws, sank a medium-range turnaround jumper, then curled across the lane from the left side and put in a layup with seven seconds remaining for the one-point win.
“The last basket, the clock was going down, I had the ball, I just took the shot,” said Agwu. “We were just looking to score, not foul, try to make it happen. [Tonight] I learned that we work well together, and at crunch time, we do well.”
Agwu netted 17 points to share team scoring honors with Raekwon Wilson.
In a game of effort and energy, it was Purnell who distinguished himself above the rest offensively.
“Terris is a very, very good player,” said Delcastle coach Paul Brown. “He plays hard, is a warrior, and right now he has to wait a little bit for some of our guys to grow a little bit.”
After missing his first 3-point attempt and scoring just one point in the opening quarter, Purnell hit three 3-pointers in a row in the second quarter to tie the game before A.I. took a one-point lead into the locker room. The Tigers pulled away to a seven-point lead late in the third quarter before the Cougars ran off 11 points in row. Purnell’s sixth and final three put his team up 51-47 with 3:36 left. His two free throws with 1:17 were Delcastle’s final points of the night.
“We should have took our time, run our offense … the things good teams do in late game situations,” said Purnell after the loss. “From this game, we build.”