Polytech had only a four-point third-quarter lead, but Indian River High School’s basketball team would get no closer. They hounded the Indian ball-handlers for 23 turnovers and beat Indian River at their own game — hustling.
“They’re not as talented as Dover or Sussex Central but nobody plays harder than them (Polytech), said IRHS Head Coach Pat Kelly. “They played hard and well. They scraped after loose balls and made their free-throws. Maybe we need to learn from that. They won by the way they approach the game. They wanted it more than we did and they practice harder than we do. The teams we’re going to play aren’t slouches.”
Indian River wasn’t able to consistently match Polytech’s intensity and let any comeback effort slip away. Polytech’s lead eventually stretched from four to 20, despite shooting a terrible 1-13 from the three-point line. But their team was able to scoop enough offensive rebounds for often-uncontested put backs.
“We didn’t have a good shooting day but we play tough defense and that broke it loose for us to get a couple easy baskets,” said Polytech Head Coach Ron Allen.
Indian River actually out-rebounded Polytech, 39 to 32, but the Panthers shot a higher field-goal percentage than the Indians (46 percent for Polytech to IRHS’s 37 percent). Indians center Jeremy Purnell pulled down 12 rebounds for the game but only three in the first half.
Polytech’s senior guards hawked freshman point guard Tyree Oliver for six turnovers and points in transition.
“Tyree had Jeff Brady guarding him, who’s a strong kid, and that spin dribble just doesn’t work. You’ll lose it 60 percent of the time and especially if you try it in traffic. It only works on the baseline when everyone is away from you. But he has a good attitude and will get better.”
By the time Indian River decided to apply the full-court press and fight for a final rally, it was too late.
“We knew these guys weren’t world beaters. We knew we could press them. That’s been the history and we had them on their heels at the end. But we waited too long to turn on the intensity,” said Kelly.
Indian River’s press did work but they were forced to foul near the end of the game. That’s where Polytech sealed the game. Polytech guard Jeff Brady shot 0-10 from the field but gave his team a boost by nailing13 of 14 free-throws (11 of 12 in second half). As a team, they shot 18 of 21 from the charity stripe compared to the Indians’ 9 of 13.
Brian Bell led all scorers with 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Curtis Chandler ranked second with 17 points.
Despite the Indians’ individual success, Kelly noted that they need someone to run the offense through instead of driving to the basket every time.
“We’re not really getting to know the plays,” said Kelly. “Everyone is looking to put it on the floor. Sometimes, as coaches, we outthink ourselves and what we need to do is focus on something and do it well.”
The loss to Polytech was bitter but splitting it with a 51-43 win over Milford on Jan. 13 numbed the taste.
The game was back-and-forth throughout the first half, but the Indians pulled away in the second on some tough play by Chandler.
Chandler scored a game-high 21 points — including a key steal and five straight baskets in the paint.
“We didn’t shoot particularly well but our guys did what they had to do to get the win,” said Kelly. “We got some defensive rebounds and got some fast-break opportunities. Chandler stepped up and made a crucial steal, and finished at the end to give us some separation at the end.”
Milford was in a three-point game with Cape Henlopen in the third quarter before losing so Kelly knew they could hang, but the key would be stopping their point guard, Eddie Gibbs.
“We really respected their point guard and wanted to stop his penetration. We looked at his shot chart and most of his points were in the paint and sometimes versus a zone,” said Kelly. “He was their key and he did make a couple flying one-handers, but we didn’t let him get started.”
Gibbs scored only two baskets on three shots and made two assists.
Indian River will get back on the road after the Polytech loss and travel to Cape Henlopen (Jan. 20), Sussex Tech (Jan. 24) and Sussex Central (Jan. 27) for 7 p.m. tipoffs.