MIDDLETOWN – The Appoquinimink boys basketball team had trailed at halftime in seven of its last 10 games, and been tied in another one.
So the Jaguars put themselves in an unfamiliar position by taking a 15-point lead into the locker room against Middletown on Wednesday night.
“We never, ever start the game off winning,” Appo coach Steve Wright said. “At halftime, we were up by 15. We’re usually down by 15 and we’ve got to come back and win.”
The Jaguars pushed the lead as high as 19 early in the fourth quarter, then had to hold off a furious rally before winning 76-66 at Appo.
It was totally different than the first meeting at Middletown, when the Cavaliers built a 36-24 halftime lead and cruised to a 69-51 win on Feb. 6.
“Last game, we missed 25 free throws. We missed 27 layups,” Wright said. “Today, we executed like we’re supposed to, we rebounded much better, and I think that was the difference.”
Junior guard Myles Cale scored inside and outside for the Jaguars (11-6, 5-4 Blue Hen Flight A) on the way to 31 points and eight rebounds. Junior Ky’ree Perkins came off the bench to score 12, and 6-foot-7 senior Kris Alexander added 11 points and seven boards.
“I think the first time, we had a lot of pressures on us, outside pressures,” Wright said. “Those things are now lifted off our shoulders, so now we’re just getting into the game, playing the game like we’re supposed to and getting ready for the playoffs.”
Appo was hot from the start, as Alexander hit a layup and Cale turned a turnover into a one-handed jam that excited the large crowd. Then Alexander splashed a 3-pointer and Perkins drove for a layup to push the lead to 13-7.
Then the Jaguars opened the second quarter with an 18-2 run. Cale drove for three buckets and hit a deep 3, Travis Holmes drove for a score and Perkins and Holmes dropped back-to-back 3s to make it 31-12 with 2:05 left in the first half.
“They’re a very high-energy team,” Wright said of the Cavaliers. “So we took that energy away.”
Middletown (9-8, 3-5) regained its energy, but not before trailing 59-40 with 6:49 to play. The Cavaliers scored 29 points in the final quarter, including six buckets off of offensive rebounds. A 3-pointer by Marcus Pinkett pulled Middletown within 70-64 with 51.2 seconds to play.
“We started cruising,” Wright said. “The things that got us to where we were, we’ve got to finish the game the same way. We can’t go into a one-on-one game.
“They’re going to press us. They’re a very good pressing team, so they’re going to get steals here and there. But I always tell the kids to weather the storm.”
The Cavaliers had a couple of chances to get even closer, but Appo weathered the storm. Perkins and Cale each hit two free throws in the final 10 seconds to make the margin comfortable.
Senior guard Justin Thompson led Middletown with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Junior guard Shane Wilkins added 16 points, sophomore Eddie Henderson scored 11 and senior center Jeremiah Nkumsah finished with eight points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.