By STEVE WILAJ
Heading into Friday night’s matchup, it wasn’t as if the undefeated Poland Bulldogs needed an extra advantage when they hosted the Howland Tigers.
But they received one anyway.
Howland senior starters Arbie Murray, Brendan Cope and De’Veon Smith violated team policy and arrived late for the bus ride to Poland. As a result, they were benched for the entire first quarter.
“When you have to sit them down because they don’t want to act like senior leaders, it puts the rest of the kids at a disadvantage,” Howland coach Bill Bogan said.
Poland took full advantage of the Tigers mishap, riding a dominant first quarter to an eventual 69-50 victory.
“We saw that as a window of opportunity for us,” Bulldogs coach Ken Grisdale said of Howland’s missing starters. “It worked out real well for us.”
Indeed it did, as the youthful Tigers starters couldn’t handle the Poland full-court press. Howland (1-6) was outscored 27-8 in the first period while committing eight turnovers.
And while the Bulldogs (5-0) are known for their intense full-court defense, Grisdale said his team increased the pressure when they realized the Tigers were shorthanded early.
“Our game plan was to try to get after them, but I think we ratcheted it up a little bit more,” he said. “We just saw an opportunity to force some of their guys to handle the ball that may not have been real comfortable doing it and I think our kids did a really good job with it.”
The depleted Howland lineup was also at a disadvantage on the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers had trouble dealing with the size of Poland’s Jacob Wolfe, and the junior forward scored 20 first-quarter points.
“They just isolated Wolfe and we had nobody to stop him in that group,” Bogan said. “We tried. It wasn’t from lack of effort or heart. Jake just overpowered them.”
Wolfe connected on 8 of 10 shots in the first quarter and made four free throws.
“My teammates really put me in a good spot to get me the ball,” said Wolfe, who finished with 25 points. “And our defensive intensity was really good at the start and it made buckets easy.”
Nick Andrews added 10 points for the Bulldogs, while Kevin White and George Chammas each scored seven.
John Mark Weisman led Hiowland with 20 points and Evan Steele added 11.
After the one-sided first quarter ended and the suspensions were lifted, the Tigers and Bulldogs played an even match the rest of the way. The final three quarters combined resulted in a tie at 42.
“We were able to play all of our guys,” Bogan said of the final three periods. “Our starters played starter minutes and the role guys played role minutes. That’s what works.”