HOWLAND - The Howland Tigers have a stranglehold on the All-American Conference Red Division.
Last Tuesday, the Tigers pulled off a rare season sweep of the Poland Bulldogs, who have virtually dominated the AAC and the former Metro Athletic Conference in recent memory, with a 66-64 victory.
T.J. Lanier, who had a team-high 22 points, made a layup with 10 seconds remaining to give the Tigers a two-point lead. Drew Wagner missed two free throws on the ensuing possession and a last-second half-court shot from Colin Reardon came up short, giving Howland the season sweep of the Bulldogs.
"What we wanted to do was what we've been doing all game," Tigers coach Dan Campana said of the final play. "We wanted to look inside and attack the hoop."
Lanier's layup was necessary after a rigorous Poland comeback. Howland's Dontea Dawson hit a layup with 2:25 remaining in the game, giving Howland (10-5, 5-1 AAC Red) an 11-point lead, but the Bulldogs refused to lie down, responding with an 11-0 run to tie the game at 64 with 56 seconds remaining.
The run was one of several made by Poland (11-4, 3-2) on the night as it trailed 17-2 after the first 4 minutes of the game.
Bulldogs coach Ken Grisdale, who was looking for his 300th career victory, said he was proud of his team's effort despite the slow start.
"You have to play all 32 minutes and for some reason we didn't play real well in the beginning," he said. "You can't complain about the effort after that start."
The comeback was led by Darius Patton, who came off the bench to score a team-high 25 points. While Patton was impressive on offense, it was his eight steals and breathtaking speed that stuck out.
"He played an amazing game and he's a special athlete," Grisdale said. "When he gets his brain the way he had tonight he's special. He was a pleasure as a coach to sit there and watch."
Despite the effort of the speedy point guard, Poland had no match for Howland's length. The Tiger's dominated the boards with 34-20 edge in rebounding. Dawson, who scored 17 points, and Lanier combined for 20 rebounds and controlled the paint.
"Our goal is to outrebound teams every time," Campana said. "Poland coming in is no different. We know if they put a shot up they're crashing the boards hard so our normal game plan is one shot and done."
The win puts Poland at a significant disadvantage in the division standings with Howland only having Niles and Beaver Local remaining on its conference schedule, games Grisdale doesn't expect the Tigers to lose.
"Now we're in a situation because they aren't going to lose to Niles or Beaver Local (played on Friday after press time)," he said. "They just put themselves in a position to at least get a share, so congratulations to them."
Campana said the win was important for his program, which has struggled with Poland in recent years.
"It is a big win for us," he said. "We haven't beat them here in a while and we definitely haven't beat them twice in a while. In the league, that puts us back where we want to be in the standings."