The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.
The Long Beach Poly boys’ basketball team won their first game of the season in their opener at the Bosco Winter Classic, after dropping three contests to start the year. So why did their head coach and star player seem so frustrated afterwards?
“We won, but it feels like a loss,” said Poly coach Shelton Diggs. “We’ll take the win–we needed the win. But we played poorly and it felt like we were doing everything possible to lose the game. Missed layups, missed free throws, turning the ball over. It’s all the signs of a young team, but how long are we gonna be young for?”
The game might not have been pretty for the Jackrabbits, but it was a W, as they defeated Dominguez 53-49.
Poly will play every day this week as they continue play in the Bosco Winter Classic Wednesday evening against the host Braves. On off days they will be at the Beverly Hills High Tournament including a game on Tuesday and Thursday.
The Jackrabbits were led in scoring by sophomore Jovani Ruff, who had 17 of their 53 points.
“I think our confidence was there today, we’re still a young team and we’re learning to trust each other and where we’re going to be,” he said. “Today we got it done, just barely.”
Ruff said he was happy with how Poly defended, holding Dominguez to 10 points in the first quarter, 13 in the second, and eight in the third.
“We’ve always been a defensive school, we’re learning to use our speed and our length to alter shots and make things hard on teams,” he said.
Ruff displayed a silky smooth offensive game last year as a freshman and is looking to be more physical in getting to the basket this season. That was on display against Dominguez as he pushed the ball inside in the first half to score 11 of Poly’s 22 points; he also hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close out the first quarter with the score tied 10-10.
Poly’s offense struggled to get going in the first half, however, with a score of turnovers mostly caused by errant passes in transition, including two that should have been easy layups.
In the third quarter, with Dominguez sitting back in a zone, sophomore Austin Unegbu hit a pair of 3-pointers and Ruff added two baskets along with a 3-pointer from Cash Stokley and a layup after a steal from sophomore Giovanni Ofoegbu; those 15 points were enough to open up a 37-31 lead going into the fourth quarter.
There, it looked like Poly would pull away, as baskets by Ruff and Ryder Maddox (11 points) pushed the Jackrabbits to a 43-33 lead midway through. But it was at that point that the Jackrabbits began a series of miscues that included turnovers, blown defensive assignments, ill-advised fouls, and missed free throws. They gave up an 8-2 scoring run that cut the lead to 48-44, then turned the ball over to let the Dons score on a run-out layup that made it one-possession game. Maddox hit two free throws to grow the lead back to four, but a blown assignment on an inbounds play gave Dominguez a layup and cut the lead to two.
Junior Antonio Wembley missed a free throw on the next possession for Poly so Dominguez got it back down just three. Poly fouled with 10 seconds left and Dominguez missed one of the free throws--Kairi Shepherd hit two free throws for Poly to make it 53-49, which is where the game ended.
“We’re playing harder on defense which is good, but when we played harder we were out of position more,” said Diggs. “We’re inexperienced, Jovani is really the only player who played major minutes last year. So we need to keep playing hard and getting better.”
The Jackrabbits will have plenty of opportunity to get better this week with six games in six days, and then the start of league play next week.
“We’re gonna find out,” said Diggs. “If someone has a bad game they can get in and play the next day. Guys have to figure it out.”