DOVER – The high-flying Polytech offense was missing much of the night, but the Panthers found their stroke in the fourth quarter, pouring in 28 points in the final eight minutes to defeat Milford, 47-42, for the Henlopen Conference boys basketball title Friday at Dover High School.
Polytech (20-1) drained seven field goals in the fourth, matching the number made in the first three quarters combined. The Panthers, who are used to scores in the 70s and 80s, struggled from the field much of the night, scoring just two points in the third – both on free throws – as Milford looked to pull the upset. But a tenacious pressing defense and improved shooting helped Polytech overcome an eight-point deficit after three quarters.
Henlopen South champion Milford (12-9) took its first lead at 18-17 in the first minute of the third when Brion Murray followed his own miss and hit a 10-foot baseline jumper. Within the next minute, Panthers star forward Devaughn Mallory picked up his third foul and headed to the bench, and the Buccaneers took advantage. Milford built the one-point advantage to eight by the end of the third, and the Buccaneers seemed poised for a big win in front of a noisy near-sellout crowd.
Panthers guard Ricky Hicks hit a pair of free throws, and Mallory knocked down two of four from the stripe in the opening minute of the fourth to begin the comeback. With six minutes to go, Mallory scored on a layup, the Panthers’ first field goal since late in the second.
Milford held a four-point lead midway through the fourth, but a three-pointer by Juwan Gray brought Polytech to within a point, and Mallory tied it on a free throw. On its next possession, Milford had an opportunity to retake the lead, but the Buccaneers could not score despite getting four offensive rebounds. Mallory made them pay when, with 2:50 to go, he hit a short hook shot to give the Panthers the lead at 37-35.
Another bucket by Polytech completed an 8-0 run, a streak ended by a pair of Henry Nesmith free throws. The game may have been put out of reach on a Mallory dunk, but Milford would not quit. Son Martinez nailed a three-pointer with 14 seconds left to trim Polytech’s lead to 43-42. The Panthers extended that to 45-42, but Milford would have three chances in the last 10 seconds to tie things up.
The Buccaneers’ first attempt missed, but they retained possession on a held ball call. There were 5.6 seconds left. The second shot was blocked out of bounds, and 3.2 remained. On the last attempt, the Buccaneers’ shooter was bumped and stepped out of bounds, but there would be no foul called, and Polytech’s vociferous student section let loose.
Polytech won its 20th game against just one loss, but for much of the night Milford was the better team. The Buccaneers, who are seeded 16th in the tournament, outrebounded the taller Panthers, got to more loose balls and forced a number of turnovers.
Nesmith had a solid game in a losing effort, scoring a game-high 18 points. Murray added nine. The Buccaneers will open tournament play Wednesday at 7 p.m. at home when No. 17 Delcastle comes to town.
For Polytech, Hicks and Mallory reached double figures with 15 and 12, respectively. Each had 10 points in the fourth. The Panthers are the eighth seed in the tournament and earned the final first-round bye. They will host the winner of the Cape Henlopen-Howard game next Friday at 7 p.m. Tickets for all playoff games are available at diaa.ticketleap.com.