LARGO – All afternoon during the June 9 Summer Madness League game between Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School and DuVal High School, Pumas Head Coach Lou Wilson kept emphasizing how important it was for his team to rebound.
The Tigers dominated Wise on the glass in the first half, but the Pumas responded to keep them under control until the final minutes of the second half.
In a game that went back and forth, DuVal’s tenacity on the glass was the difference. With less than two minutes remaining and the Tigers leading 38-36, DuVal’s Cashim Miller missed a layup, but Brandon Emanuel corralled the offensive rebound and put it back for an easy layup.
“In practice, we always talk about being aggressive on the boards and rebounding everything we can,” Emanuel said.
Wise came up empty on the next possession, and when Christopher Davis missed a breakaway dunk, Golden Okorocha was there for an easy layup to extend the Tigers lead to 42-36. Those two second-chance opportunities were enough to hold off a late run by the Pumas in a 46-41 victory.
“We tell our guys if you want to win basketball games, No. 1 you have to rebound,” DuVal Head Coach Terrence Norris said. “So we stress that and right now we’re six-foot-three and six-foot-four across the wing, six-foot-three at the forward, so we have pretty long guys that are playing…stressing the importance of rebounding is one of the keys for us.”
The layups by Emanuel and Okorocha capped off a 14-1 Tigers (3-0) run, but the Pumas (2-1) still had one rally left in them. After forcing a turnover, Kejuan Frager was fouled and hit both free throws, cutting the lead to four. Then after forcing another Tigers turnover, Trey Thomas buried a 3-pointer to cut DuVal’s lead to 42-41 with 15.5 seconds remaining.
DuVal stayed calm, as Muhammed Yilmaz and Emanuel hit two free throws on consecutive possessions to seal the victory.
“We played hard all in all,” Wilson said. “But a few possessions, few plays here and there, could’ve went our way.”
In a matchup between the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the league’s weekly power rankings, it was the Tigers who jumped out to an early 13-7 lead. Their 2-3 zone flummoxed Wise, who settled for lots of jump shots and struggled to get penetration.
“We had to find a way to get in the gaps,” Wise guard Daemond Ford said. “So we started by shooting jumpers, but they weren’t falling so we had to get in the gaps and attack.”
The Pumas continued to fight, but still struggled to break through, and DuVal extended the lead to 23-15 late in the first half. The Tigers continued to impose their will on the glass, and Wise had no answer for Emanuel, who finished with a game-high 19 points. The rising senior is expected to carry a bigger load for the Tigers this year, and was one of the top three scorers last year, alongside two graduated seniors Ishmael Smith and Tolu Telli.
The Pumas finally started to get into a rhythm late in the first half, getting a three from Mekhi Price and back-to-back steal and scores from Thomas to cut the lead to 24-22 heading into halftime. Wise continued to apply ball pressure coming out of the locker room, and Frager gave the Pumas their first lead in the after he corralled a steal and scored fast-break.
Price, Thomas and Frager were Wise’s primary playmakers all afternoon, combining for 31 of the team’s 41 points.
The Pumas lost seven seniors from a balanced and deep team that lost to High Point in last year’s state sectional finals and are mainly working on getting to learn from each other as the summer progresses.
“Right now we’re just working on team chemistry,” Ford said. “We got a couple of new faces, so just getting that team chemistry and understanding how everyone plays and fitting that into how we play as a program.”
Everyone appeared to be gelling for much of the second half, and Price’s second 3-pointer of the game gave the Pumas a 35-28 lead with 7:34 remaining.
But Wise didn’t hit another shot from the field for over seven minutes, allowing DuVal to regain the lead and impose its will on the glass again to remain undefeated.