Forget taking all of those energy drinks and supplements that are currently saturating the market. Just spend a little bit of time with Howard boys basketball coach Chris DiMascio and his team.
The Wildcats are pure energy that comes in the form of over-the-rim athleticism, 3-pointers and slam dunks. And averaging 84 points per game, they have proved nearly impossible to keep up with.
Senior guard Larry Woody scored 18 points as four of Howard’s five starters reached double figures in the second-seeded Wildcats’ 68-53 triumph over No. 7 seed Polytech in the quarterfinal round of the DIAA Boys Basketball State Tournament at St. Georges on Tuesday night.
Howard trailed 16-15 after the opening quarter but unleashed the beast in the second frame, outscoring the Panthers 26-5 to take a 41-21 lead at halftime that proved to be uncatchable.
“That’s what it takes – 80 points or more, that’s what we need,” said Wildcats senior forward Lamont Davis, who scored 15 points and pulled down nine rebounds. “Energy is all we needed. It all comes down to energy. A dunk got us fired up, and the 3s got us fired up. It was instant energy.”
“Coach just told us to keep playing our game and don’t let the crowd get us out of our game,” Woody said. “We knew they were going to start fighting back shooting 3s, but we were ready for it.”
Howard (21-1 overall) has won 16 consecutive games since its only loss of the season, 67-65, to Mt. Pleasant on Jan. 8. The Wildcats advance to face No. 3 Hodgson (19-3) in the semifinals at the Bob Carpenter Center on Thursday night at 6:30.
Polytech (18-5) was the last surviving team in the tournament from the Henlopen Conference. The defeat marked the fourth time in the past five seasons that the Panthers have advanced to the quarterfinals, but they have never advanced to the semis.
“They were very athletic and they were able to get out on the break and they were able to make shots. Our guys didn’t defend well,” Polytech coach John Pierce said.
“We fell asleep on defense, mainly. We lost track of that one shooter [Woody] and he was able to get off and extend their lead a little bit and we were playing catch-up the rest of the way.”
Howard’s explosion was a decisive one as it caught fire and scored 16 unanswered points to start the second quarter. Senior guard Tyaire Ponzo-Meek scored eight of his 15 points during the pivotal quarter, including the final basket of the run that gave the Wildcats a 31-16 lead with four minutes left until halftime.
On the other side, Polytech failed to score a basket in the second quarter until Harry Johnson scored on a putback with 2:30 to play until the half. The Panthers had seven turnovers and Howard sank 10 of its 20 shots from the field during the period.
“We’re an offensive team, and we’ve been an offensive team all year,” DiMascio said. “We average 84 points [per game] and we know we’re going to have to score points in different quarters. We came out and scored 16 points in the first quarter, which a lot of teams would love to score 16 points in a quarter, but for us, we want to score 20 points a quarter to get to our 80 number.
“We averaged 84 points this year, and we’re trying to at least reach that every game. We’re shooting a lot of shots. If you come to a Howard game, you’re going to see a lot of shots get put up.”
To Polytech’s credit, it fought back valiantly, opening the second half on a 15-7 run and pulled within 10 points at 50-40 on Johnson’s layup with 1:48 remaining in the third quarter.
However, that turned out to be as close as Polytech would get. Devaughn Mallory scored 15 points and Antonio DePina had 14 points for the Panthers.
Senior guard Gjaimeir Stanford finished with 14 points for Howard, and while junior forward B.J. Wright was the only Wildcat starter to not reach double figures in scoring, he did have 12 rebounds and four steals.
Don’t expect Howard’s high-energy style to change in the semifinal round.
“We just keep coming,” DiMascio said. “We’re going to keep coming, and coming, and coming. At this point, it’s not something out of character for our team.”