POLO – No one should be surprised the Milledgeville-Polo boys basketball game came down to the final possession, or that the final margin was a mere one point.
The surprising part Saturday night in Polo was how low-scoring the nip-and-tuck affair turned out to be.
In a game filled with runs by both teams, the Missiles downed the Marcos 46-45.
Free throws made all the difference down the stretch … but only because both teams missed all of them. After the Marcos (20-7, 7-4) rallied from a five-point deficit in the final minute thanks to the Missiles (19-4, 8-3) missing the front end of three one-and-one opportunities, Polo senior AJ Dollmeyer had two free throws with no time left on the clock and his team down one.
With the lane cleared out and the players, coaches and crowd holding its breath, Dollmeyer's two attempts rattled out to give Milledgeville the season sweep over the rival Marcos.
"It was just a huge sigh of relief, because we basically gave them the chance to win it," Milledgeville senior Caleb Skoog said. "We missed some key free throws when we really had to have them, and we were fortunate that we're leaving here with the win."
A quarter earlier, it didn't look like the game would come down to the wire. After Polo opened the second half with a 9-0 run to take a 30-29 lead – its first since 2-0 in the opening minute – the Missiles closed the third quarter with a 10-0 run of their own, capped by Jordan Harris' hanger in the lane with 1.2 seconds left, for a 39-30 lead heading into the final 8 minutes.
"It was a game of runs, and we had the last one," Dollmeyer said. "We just didn't finish it off. We gave them two big runs, and made two big comebacks, but we just couldn't capitalize on their missed free throws."
Austin Webb's 3-pointer and Dollmeyer's putback to open the fourth quarter cut the Polo deficit to 39-35, then Skoog hit a 3 and Harris went coast-to-coast off a steal for a 44-35 Missile lead.
After a free throw and a post bucket by Wyatt Patterson, Dollmeyer's putback got the Marcos within 44-40, before DawTyne found Zach Herin wide open under the basket for a 46-40 Milledgeville lead with 3:09 to play.
But those were the last points the Missiles scored, and Dollmeyer split a pair of free throws with 2:39 to go to make it 46-41 and set up the wild final minute.
"Neither team shot like we're capable of, but both teams put themselves in position to win," Polo coach Mike Messer said. "There was some pretty good defense out there tonight on both sides, and both teams just battled and battled to the very end."
The final play to set up Dollmeyer's fateful free throws came with 1.2 seconds left, after the Missiles' third missed front-end free throw came with 9.4 seconds left. Patterson pulled down the rebound and Polo pushed it up the court and called timeout.
With the ball on the left sideline in the front court, Polo drew up a lob play to Dollmeyer going to the basket.
"We drew up the play we wanted, and we stuck with it even after Milledgeville called the timeout after our timeout," Dollmeyer said. "They threw the ball up to me, and my shot got blocked, but they also got me with the body."
"We knew what they were going to do," Milledgeville coach Brian Rahn said, "and I apologized to my team for having the wrong guy on Dollmeyer. It was totally my fault, but the guys just found a way to overcome it."
Finding a way to win was the theme for the Missiles on this night. They were outrebounded 42-23, outscored 16-8 in second-chance points, shot just nine free throws and made only two, and were without one of their major offensive weapons thanks to a dismal 2-for-20 performance from 3-point range.
Yet with all that going against them, the Missiles managed to pull it out thanks to winning more 50-50 plays, as well as turning 12 steals and 19 Polo turnovers into a 16-6 edge in fast-break points.
"The defenses were very good tonight, and neither offense really got into a rhythm," Skoog said. "But it's a big boost to our confidence when we can do all the little things, get all those hustle plays, and basically win a game while not shooting great at all."
Skoog's 15 points and seven rebounds paced Milledgeville, and he also dished three assists. Blake Kappes scored 11 points, Harris added nine points and four steals, and DawTyne finished with seven points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals.
Dollmeyer's double-double consisted of 17 points and 16 rebounds, and he also had two assists, two steals and two blocks. Brian Cavanaugh scored 13 points and dished three assists, and Patterson chipped in seven points and nine rebounds.
The game could be a potential preview of the 1A Forreston Regional final in 2 weeks, as the Missiles are the top seed and the Marcos are the third seed. Polo would have to beat Pearl City and, more than likely Aquin, to reach the title tilt, while the Missiles would have win a semifinal game against the winner of the Eastland-Forreston quarterfinal.
"We came out with a lot of energy and effort tonight," Dollmeyer said, "and if we can play that same way next week, hopefully we can pull it off and get a little revenge."
Milledgeville 46, Polo 45
Star of the game: AJ Dollmeyer, Polo, 17 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Key performers: Caleb Skoog, Milledgeville, 15 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists; Kameron DawTyne, Milledgeville, 7 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals; Brian Cavanaugh, Polo, 15 points, 3 assists
Up next: Durand at Milledgeville & South Beloit at Polo, both 7:30 p.m. Tuesday