HOWLAND - With the Poland Bulldogs posting the first seven points of the game, Howland's Evan Steele clamored to get out on the floor.
The junior guard started the game on the bench but wanted to make a mark for his team, and that's exactly what he did. Catching fire from beyond the arc, Steele scored a game-high 19 points to help the Tigers earn a 59-51 win, handing the Bulldogs their second loss of the season.
"I just felt good out there," Steele said. "I've been working on shooting it at practice a lot, and my teammates found me. We have some of the best drivers in the league. They found me in the corner, and I just shot it."Steele's night really started in the second quarter, when Howland (6-9, 5-3 All-American Conference, American Division) erupted on the offensive end.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Howland’s Brendan Cope (15) drives through the key toward the basket as Poland’s Mario Bouchedid (13) and Troy Bole (21) defend during second-quarter action.
Over the last 5:40 in the second, the Tigers went on an 18-0 run. During the run, Steele drained three 3-pointers, setting up along the perimeter and waiting for his teammates to find to him.
Although slowing down a bit in the second half, Steele managed to hit big shots when the team needed it.
In the third quarter, the Bulldogs (14-2, 8-2) trimmed a 15-point deficit to six by the final minute. With Howland yet to score, Steele rose up and drained a 3, which, combined with Reese Bogan's half-court buzzer beater, pushed the Tiger lead back out to 12 points going into the final 8 minutes.
Steele did it again with 4:34 remaining in the game. The Bulldogs scored the first six points of the quarter and were once again down six, before Steele received a pass from John-Mark Weisman and hit his fifth and final 3 of the game.
"You want kids to maintain, and you want them to play to their strengths," Howland coach Bill Bogan said. "Evan's strength is a spot-up shooter. He's done that for us all year long - we've got an incredible amount of faith in him. We're not hesitant at all to let him go out there and crank it up and get going."
Despite Steele's effort, the Tigers couldn't clinch the game until the final minute of play.
Poland clawed back again after going down 11 with three-and-a-half minutes left, with a Jacob Wolfe putback basket making it a four-point game with 1:42 remaining, but the Tigers went 7 of 8 from the charity stripe in the final minute to seal the deal.
With consecutive wins over Canfield and Poland, two teams ahead of the Tigers in the league, Bogan said his team showed some mental toughness.
"We showed grit," Bogan said. "We showed an incredible desire to win a basketball game. To go back-to-back against Canfield and Poland... it puts us right in the thick of the league."
A dangerous trend has popped up for the Bulldogs, as they jump up to quick leads before relaxing too early.
Coach Ken Grisdale said that this tendency haunted the Bulldogs against the Tigers, as Poland started off all three quarters strong before fading.
"We've had a habit of getting up on people like Canfield and a couple other ones - and relax," Grisdale said. "We lost the game from about the end of the first quarter through the second quarter, whether we relaxed, or they got very hot."
As for Howland, Bogan said his team's 3-pointer shooting performance was the main reason for the win.
Overall, the Tigers dropped 11 3s, including an 8-of-11 mark in the first half.
"I know (former Warren G. Harding) coach (Bob) LaRicca mentioned that he doesn't like the 3-point shot, but you know what - if we didn't have the 3-point shot tonight, we don't get this victory," Bogan said.