In front of a raucous, capacity crowd, City boys basketball defeated Poly, 54-48, in another classic and hard-fought edition of the city’s biggest rivalry.
Gage Howard scored 20 points, including a clutch late basket, while Camonte Griffin caught fire late en route to 14 points and four assists, leading the Knights to the big victory.
City, winners of five of its past seven games, improved to 12-6. Poly, which fell to 11-7, got a balanced scoring effort let by Rashid McLeod with 14 points, while point guard Anthony Gaymon notched nine assists as the floor general of the Engineers’ offense.
City built an eight-point lead before Zyian Gates came up big for Poly, connecting from beyond the arc with 4:54 to play. However, it proved to be one of just three Poly field goals in the final eight minutes. Twice, the Engineers cut their deficit to a single possession, as Eli Kutcherman hit a 3-pointer to bring the score to 49-46, and a steal by Gaymon produced a fast-break bucket that took Poly within two points, 50-48, with 50 seconds to play.
However, that was all she wrote for the Engineers. They had a pair of possessions while down just two, but exceptional defense from City stonewalled the host’s efforts at completing a furious rally. City displayed strong help defense underneath the basket and clogged the driving lanes, forcing McLeod to either finish over or around a defender, or distribute the ball.
“Another thing we’ve worked on in practice is keeping someone home, staying connected, no easy baskets driving to the lane,” City coach Omarr Smith Sr. said. “Executing things that we were working on in practice leading up to the game helped us out.”
With 28 seconds to play, Howard delivered the final blow with a tough basket in the paint to give City a four-point lead. Needing two buckets to tie, Poly got several looks on their next possession but just couldn’t get anything to drop. City eventually secured a rebound, made two more free throws and secured the win.
“We’ve been in these games all year. We had a tough schedule early on, in December, [and] we dropped a couple here lately,” Smith said. “I never doubt my kids’ talent and ability. It’s all [mental], teenagers are easily distracted. Just concentrate on keeping them focused on the task at hand.”
As is to be expected in a high-stakes rivalry matchup, both teams employed a frenetic pace to start the contest. Every steal, rebound or block turned into attempted fast breaks, a majority of which proved unsuccessful. City found some early success with Omarr Smith Jr. (nine points) hitting a corner 3-pointer just over two minutes into the contest for a 6-0 lead.
Although it took longer, Poly eventually settled into the game. McLeod managed to notch Poly’s first six points to keep the hosts within striking distance. Down 12-6, Poly seemingly took a huge blow when McLeod went down in obvious pain and needed to be helped off the court without being able to put much weight on his ankle. However, directly after the loss of its scoring leader, Poly found a second gear to finally generate some offense.
First, Chaz Fisher delivered a thundering chase-down block after a City steal, firing the ball back up the court, where Poly eventually found Marcus Matthews for a three. After a defensive stop by the Engineers, Fisher then got a chance to add to his highlight reel, this time on the offensive end, hitting his attempt from beyond the arc to briefly tie the game at 12.
Fisher finished with nine points, while Morris drained a pair of threes and finished with eight points and three assists off the bench. McLeod surprisingly was able to return later in the second quarter.
After the brief offensive showcase by Poly, the game resumed its chaotic, turnover-filled ways with minimal offensive production. But Poly refused to go away as the Engineers took their first lead of the game, 24-22, late in the first half, sparked once more by aggressive defense. This time, it was Kutcherman notching the key steal to find Gaymon.
However, City hit a buzzer-beater to knot the score at 24 apiece entering the second half.
The third quarter turned into the most high-scoring with both teams producing a big run toward the end as the rivals jockeyed for control. With the score tied at 32, Gates converted a big basket through contact to spark a 7-0 Poly run. Moments later, with 3:03 to play in the period, Fisher hit a 3-pointer for the seven-point advantage, the biggest for either team to that point.
However, City refused to wilt in the face of an exceptionally loud road environment. Ratcheting up the defensive pressure, the Black Knights held Poly scoreless the remainder of the third quarter, finding baskets in key moments to eat into their deficit. The key players came up big for City, as Griffin, Howard and Smith each delivered in the clutch during an 11-0 run to finish the period. With just seconds remaining on the clock, Marquez Paschall dished to Griffin, whose deep three found nothing but net for a 43-39 City advantage at the third-quarter break.
Paschall finished his day with a productive stat line of seven points, three assists and five rebounds.
“We just kept our composure. Basketball is a game of runs. They made a run, we just had to execute,” Smith Sr. said. “First half, we were executing, but we were missing shots. So the third quarter was just about sticking to the script and focusing on execution.”
Poly’s winning streak ends at six games, as they dropped their fourth straight in the rivalry series. City has won five of seven and has not lost to Poly on the hardwood since March 2020.