LARGO — The Dr. Henry A. Wise High School boys basketball team’s ability to capitalize on second-chance opportunities along with the timely shooting of guards Kejuan Frager and Mekhi Price was enough to hold off St. Vincent Pallotti, 57-54, in a competitive Summer Madness regular season finale at Largo High School on June 30.
Frager netted a team-high 15 points on four made 3-pointers while Price added 14 points and three assists, also connecting on four shots from behind the arc, to lead the Pumas to the close win.
Coming off a tough loss to Eleanor Roosevelt last week, Wise notched a bounce back win to use as momentum as it approaches the Summer Madness league playoffs this upcoming weekend.
Frager, a returner, said his team’s development throughout the summer league has led to better chemistry. The younger additions to Wise’s roster are coming along well too, he added.
The key to the narrow win was “taking advantage of what they [Pallotti] were giving us and attacking the zone,” said Frager, an upcoming senior.
“Us guards – we gotta hit shots. That what we needed to do, and we did that. We hit shots.”
As the Pumas prepare to make a possible playoff run, Frager said he and his teammates need to improve defensive communication and that the coaching staff accentuated maintaining composure regardless of what the scoreboard says.
Wise opened the afternoon with a strong start, building an early double-digit lead behind its aggressive defense. Pallotti’s Warren Mouganda helped the Panthers cut into the deficit with some crucial rebounds and coast-to-coast baskets as Wise held a 27-20 advantage at halftime.
The Panthers opened the second half by responding with an assertive defense, converting early turnovers into easy points on the offensive end.
Rising senior Wade Jackson led the second-half run by Pallotti, which took its first lead, 32-30, with 11:45 left in the game. However, Wise quickly erased its deficit as the two teams traded buckets for the following several possessions.
Wise out-rebounded Pallotti, 24-20, and tallied 13 assists to the Panthers’ six. Chris Harvey and Derrick Wheatley were able to connect on several second-chance layups to help the Pumas regain and maintain the lead. The two forwards combined for 11 rebounds and 14 points.
With about two minutes left, the Panthers found themselves in a seven-point deficit but fought back to trail by three, 57-54, with 9.5 seconds remaining.
After drawing a quick foul, Frager was at the free-throw line with a chance to make it a two-possession game but missed a one-and-one free-throw attempt that was rebounded by Pallotti for a timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, Mouganda pulled up for a game-tying 3-pointer at the left wing but it bounced off the side of the rim. The miss was rebounded by Will Webster-Brown, who rapidly dribbled out to attempt another 3-pointer as time expired, which also clanked off the back of the rim to seal the win for the Pumas.
Though they got two great looks, the final play wasn’t quite executed the way the Panthers had planned.
“We just kind of executed it wrong,” said Jackson.
“It was a wrong screen set, so we had to rush a shot. At the end of the day we got two good looks, I mean we just got to knock those down next time in crunch time.”
Jackson, a 6-foot-2 guard, led all scorers with 21 points. Webster-Brown chipped in with 11 points while Mouganda grabbed a game-high seven boards. He said he has enjoyed the Summer Madness experience and anticipates the playoffs. Rebounding will play a critical role in how far the Panthers advance, Jackson said.
“We’re a small team so we got to be tenacious,” he said.
“We gotta find it deep down inside to limit every team to one shot because that’s teams really score on us, is second-shot opportunities.”
Pallotti Coach Dennis Kirkland, who is entering his first season as head of the program, said his team was missing two crucial players but felt the game was still winnable nonetheless.
“We still should have won, you can’t give teams second chances,” Kirkland said, who added that his team is doing well in the summer league.
“We’re going to compete for the championship,” Kirkland said of his expectations for the Summer Madness postseason.
Ball movement, offensive execution and defensive rebounding were some components that Kirkland identified as crucial areas of improvement for success in the playoffs.