Poland took an early lead and held off Niles 56-46.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
POLAND -- The Niles High basketball team had a two-week break before Friday's game at Poland.
The Red Dragons didn't score in the game's first five minutes and never got closer than two points against Poland, as the Bulldogs won 56-46 in each team's Metro Athletic Conference opener.
"I don't know if it was because of the layoff, but we can't use that as an excuse," Niles coach Ron Price said. "We've had some good practices the past two weeks. We just didn't play our best."
Neither did Poland, but the Bulldogs played well enough, outscoring the Red Dragons 13-6 in the final period.
"We're learning how to win at the end of games," said Poland senior Jamie Dunn, last year's MAC player of the year. "The MAC is so tough and you know you're gonna be in these kind of games. It was a big win for us."
Dunn scored 11 points and had six assists, but it was his defense that helped the Bulldogs (6-2, 1-0) pull away.
After Niles senior Jason Shelton scorched Poland for 17 points the first 21 minutes, Poland coach Ken Grisdale assigned Dunn to guard him.
Shelton did not score again.
"Jamie took him out of the game," Grisdale said. "He was huge on defense."
So was Neil Harris, who had a game-high six steals, including two in the fourth quarter to go with three rebounds and five assists.
"He's probably our MVP right now," Grisdale said of Harris. "He's our leading rebounder and our leading assist guy."
Quick start: Poland jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes and held a 14-6 lead before Shelton hit a 3-pointer before the end of the first quarter.
After falling behind 19-9 in the opening minutes of the second quarter, the Red Dragons (5-1, 0-1) went on a 13-5 run to cut it to 24-22.
The two teams exchanged baskets and Dunn came up with a steal and a 3-point play with four seconds left to make it 29-24 at halftime.
"We missed a lot of easy ones in the first quarter," Price said. "We didn't rebound well in the first half and it's tough to go down by 10 on the road to Poland. But we kept fighting."
Niles senior David Soda scored 12 of his 17 points in the first half to keep the Red Dragons in the game. David McGarry scored nine points in the first half for Poland.
Niles got within two points on three different occasions in the third quarter, but Poland never let the Red Dragons tie the game.
Not enough: "We just couldn't get over the hump," Price said. "We'll bounce back. They're a good team but we had a chance to win and that's all I can ask."
Grisdale did not call a timeout when Niles closed the gap in the third period.
"I've got Jamie Dunn, a three-year starter, on the court," Grisdale said. "What am I gonna tell him that he hasn't been through before?"
Soda added 15 rebounds for Niles, which shot 18-for-44 for the game and was 2-for-8 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
McGarry scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds for Poland and freshman Chad Fender added 12 points. Lou DaVanzo, who started the season with a broken thumb, scored 10 points in his second start.
Poland shot 17-for-39 and was 15-for-24 from the line.
"We held them off at crunch time and had enough to finish it," Grisdale said. "I think [Niles is] the best team in the league. I'm just elated we played as hard as we did."