WOODSIDE – Polytech’s gym was sold out an hour before tipoff Friday night, with a raucous crowd anticipating one of the best boys basketball games of the Henlopen North season.
Then the home team removed all the suspense in the first six minutes.
That was fine with the Panthers’ fans, as No. 2 Polytech screamed to a 16-point lead and coasted the rest of the way. Dover scored seven straight in the final 20 seconds to narrow the final score to 68-64, but everyone knew the Panthers were the better team on this night.
“The key was play together, and don’t let them get in your heads,” said Polytech senior Devaughn Mallory, who finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. “We knew they would talk a lot to try to take us out of the game right away. We didn’t allow that.”
The Panthers didn’t allow anything at the start. Juwan Gray hit a free throw and a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Then Ricky Hicks bombed a 3 from the right corner, and Mallory made a free throw to make it 8-0 and prompt Dover to call a timeout three minutes into the game.
“You can’t do that against a team like that,” Senators coach Stephen Wilson said. “We knew they were going to come in playing hard.”
It didn’t get any better for Dover after the timeout. Hicks made two free throws before Terrence Woodlin scored the Senators’ first bucket by tipping in his own miss.
But Mallory scored on an offensive rebound, and the Panthers broke Dover’s full-court press for a Mallory layup. John Pierce swished a lefty 3-pointer from the right wing, and Gray scored off the offensive glass to make it 19-3 and force another Senators timeout.
“Wow,” Polytech coach John Pierce said. “We came out; we were on fire. Guys really shared the ball. That was a big emphasis for us this year, sharing the ball and everybody being a part of the team.”
It was 22-5 at the end of the first quarter, and the Panthers (8-1, 4-0 Henlopen North) kept it rolling. They led 41-19 at the half and went on to eclipse last year’s win total already. After struggling through a 7-13 season, Polytech – which starts five seniors – is putting it all together.
“That was definitely the best we’ve played this year,” coach Pierce said. “Just thinking about what we went through last year … egos and different things like that. I think the guys over the summer really put the effort into bonding and being a team.”
Two narrow losses to Dover (74-72 and 77-73) were included in last year’s frustration.
“I’d say it’s a big statement game because last year we didn’t beat Dover and we struggled a lot,” Mallory said. “This year, we made it a point that we have a much better team and we play a lot better.”
The Panthers still led 64-45 with 3:25 left, but the ninth-ranked Senators (4-2, 3-1) kept playing hard and closed the game on a 19-4 run. But the damage had been done at the start.
“We had to deal with something with our team,” Wilson said. “We didn’t have our regular starting lineup. That’s not an excuse for why we lost. When you start off slow in an environment like this, it’s kind of hard to fight back when you’re playing against a team like that.”
The Senators will regroup, knowing that a rematch looms Jan. 30 at Dover. But the Panthers had the last word this time, as Gray and Hicks each scored 16 and Pierce added 10.
“I was very excited,” Gray said. “They were talking a lot, and we just had to prove we were the better team.”
Woodlin led Dover with 18 points. Jordan Allen scored 16, and freshman Thomas Hoskins had 12.
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ
POLYTECH 68, DOVER 64
Dover 5 14 13 32 – 64
Polytech 22 19 9 18 – 68
DOVER: Mosley 1 1-2 3, Justice 1 0-0 2, Telemac 0 0-0 0, Allen 3 9-10 16, Douglas 1 0-0 2, Scott 0 0-0 0, Woodlin 6 5-7 18, Pettit 1 2-2 4, Hoskins 4 4-4 12, Moore 3 1-2 7. Totals 20 22-27 64.
POLYTECH: Mallory 7 5-11 21, Pierce 3 3-5 10, Gray 4 6-11 16, Hicks 5 5-6 16, Brown 0 0-0 0, Price 2 0-0 5, Davis 0 0-0 0, Satchell 0 0-0 0, K. Smith 0 0-0 0, Flamer 0 0-0 0, Robinson 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 19-33 68.
3-point goals: D 2 (Allen, Woodlin), P 7 (Mallory 2, Gray 2, Pierce, Hicks, Price).