LANARK – Traditionally, a matchup between Eastland and Polo on the hardwood would be a clash of styles.
The Cougars typically rely on defense and an efficient half-court offense, while the Marcos play with a frenetic pace on both ends of the floor. Wednesday night at the Eastland Holiday Tournament, a track meet broke out.
Polo beat Eastland 66-55 by outscoring the Cougars 37-21 over the final 16:34 of game time.
The Marcos pushed their lead to 54-46 during the first 4 minutes of the fourth quarter, capped by a bucket through contact from Justin Young.
Meanwhile, Polo’s zone defense gave the Cougars fits to figure out.
“They executed better down the stretch,” Eastland coach Tony Dunlap said of the Marcos. “It seemed like we were stuck on 46 for about a half an hour. It just came in six possessions where we weren’t fundamentally sound. Give Polo credit; it was their defense and hustle.”
A steal and layup by Braiden Soltow sent him headlong into the bleachers, and Trevin Woodin nabbed a steal and threw it ahead to Reid Taylor for a layup to put the Marcos up 58-46 with 2:37 left. Eastland’s first points of the quarter came with 1:25 remaining on a 3 by Eric Langarica, which was too little, too late for any chance at a Cougar comeback.
“Our guys really dug in,” Polo coach Matt Messer said. “They killed us on the glass in the first quarter and first half, and we talked at halftime that that can’t happen. We made sure we secured rebounds, and then got out in transition.”
“Normally we’re not in close games. We don’t like them too much,” Soltow said. “We just talked to each other and locked in.”
For three quarters, Eastland (6-5) matched Polo stride-for-stride in an up-and-down game. The Cougars led 20-18 after a fast-paced first-quarter. Draven Wells provided a spark off the bench for Polo with a three-point play and 3 to start the second quarter, but Eastland provided an answer. Ethan Christians made a layup and a 3 to make it 34-29 Cougars with 34 seconds to go in the first half.
“I think we can do whatever we want when we’re mentally tough,” Dunlap said. “We can be a pretty good basketball team. We just seem to go in spurts. That’s the coach’s job to get them out of it.”
However, the Marcos stole momentum back in a lighting-quick manner. Brady Webb dropped in a fast-break layup and a 3 from the left wing to tie it at 34 going into halftime.
Polo (11-2) started the second half with a 7-0 run, as Young and Webb made layups while Woodin sank a 3 to make it 41-34 Marcos. Eastland answered with a 6-0 stretch, capped by a Lane Christians floater.
The Cougars were then caught scrambling to get back on defense, as Young passed out of the post to Soltow, who dished a no-look assist to Woodin for another 3 with 2:58 left in third. Eastland closed to within two points twice in the final minutes of the third quarter, but Polo still led 48-46 after three.
“Playing off the ball was big,” Soltow said. “We would get it into our post [Young], and he would make great decisions on kicking it out or going up with it. And we always have our transition.”
Woodin poured in a team-high 20 points for the Marcos, who beat the Cougars for the second time in 6 days after a 69-45 outcome in the seventh-place game of the Forreston Holiday Tournament. The 5-foot-6 senior nailed four 3s due in large part to finding open spots on the floor in transition.
“I have OK vision, and I’m smaller than everybody,” Woodin said. “I just get down there and go with the flow.”
Soltow stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, five rebounds, seven assists and two steals, while Young recorded a double-double with 11 points and 13 boards. Webb added 11 points.
After picking up wins over LaMoille-Ohio and the host Cougars on Wednesday, the Marcos will play a beast from the Big Northern in Byron tonight.
“The pace of play will be to our liking, but the question will be if we can lock in defensively like we did in the last three quarters,” Messer said. “If we can do that, we can give Byron a game. If we give them a quarter or two, then we are going to get blasted.”
Eastland will take on LaMoille-Ohio today after going 1-1 on Wednesday. Ethan Christians paced the Cougars with 20 points, six rebounds, two steals, an assist and a block. Brock Coatney pitched in 11 points and six rebounds, while Kaden Henze chipped in seven points.
Eastland Holiday Tournament
Polo 66, Eastland 55
Star of the game: Trevin Woodin, Polo, 20 points, 4 3-pointers, 4 rebounds, 2 steals
Key performers: Ethan Christians, Eastland, 20 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, 1 block; Brock Coatney, Eastland, 11 points, 6 rebounds; Braiden Soltow, Polo, 14 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals; Justin Young, Polo, 11 points, 13 rebounds
Up next: Eastland tournament, Eastland vs. LaMoille-Ohio, 3 p.m. today; Polo vs. Byron, 7:30 p.m. today