The Howland Tigers think they can compete with anyone in the All-American Conference.
The Poland Bulldogs think so, too.
Entering with back-to-back league victories, Howland dug out of an early hole with a hot-shooting second quarter and held off Poland, 59-51.
“We thought they’d be the best team coming back in the league,” said Poland coach Ken Grisdale. “It’s just taken them some time to bring it all together.”
The Tigers (6-9, 5-3 AAC American) trailed 7-0 in the first two minutes, but took a lead that they’d hold on to for the remainder in the final two minutes of the first quarter.
“We’re much better than our record shows,” Howland’s Evan Steele said. “We think we could be a lot better. At the middle of the season we began to realize what we have and started working with it.”
On Friday, the deep ball was working.
Howland connected on 11 3-pointers, including 8 of 11 in the first half. Brendan Cope hit three in the first quarter and Steele knocked down three in the second. His triple from the left wing put the Tigers up 31-21 with 50 seconds left before halftime. Steele finished with a game-high 19 points as the team’s sixth man.
“I was just open,” he said. “I felt good out there. I’ve been shooting well and working hard in practice.”
On Jan. 9, Steele’s 3-pointer with three seconds left lifted Howland over Warren JFK, 52-51.
“Evan’s strength is as a spot-up shooter,” said Howland coach Bill Bogan. “He’s done that for us all year long. We have an incredible amount of faith in him and we’re not hesitant at all to let him crank them up.”
Poland (14-2, 8-2) shot just 1 of 7 from the field in the second quarter and was held to four points, while Howland raced for 20 points and a 36-21 halftime lead.
“We fought,” Grisdale said, “but we lost the game from the end of the the first quarter through the second quarter, whether we relaxed or they were hot.”
In the third quarter, however, the Tigers were limited to just seven points and midway through the fourth, Poland closed the gap to four points.
But another Steele 3 and four-consecutive free throws by Arbie Murray put it away.
Murray scored eight points, with a dunk and four rebounds.
Reece Bogan had seven points, five assists and three steals while Cope added 17 points.
“We showed grit,” Bill Bogan said. “I think we showed an incredible desire to win a basketball game. That’s an extremely well-coached team. This puts us right in the thick of the league.”
Kyle Dixon led the Bulldogs’ early charge with 10 points in the first quarter. He finished with 17 points and Jake Wolfe added 15.