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Basketball Long Beach Poly Wilson

Basketball: Long Beach Poly Comes Back to Beat Wilson

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.

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.

A short-handed Wilson squad pushed Long Beach Poly to the limit in the Ron Palmer Pavilion on Friday night for the Jackrabbits’ home opener, but Poly was able to fight back in the second half with tenacious defense to avoid falling to 0-2 in Moore League play. Poly trailed at halftime but pulled away in the second half to defeat the Bruins 75-60.

The Jackrabbits’ defensive effort has been up and down this year. They gave up just 52 points to St. John Bosco a few weeks ago but gave up 36 points in the first half to a Wilson team missing two starters on Friday. In the third quarter Poly turned it up and allowed just seven points on three made field goals as they took control of the game, forcing six turnovers.

“We’re just going to have to keep showing it to them and demanding it from them every day,” said Poly coach Shelton Diggs. “In practice, we have to get better at demanding that from them. Demand that we play the way we played that third quarter or how we played against Bosco to be every day.”

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There was no doubt Wilson was the harder-working team in the first half, as sophomore Nathaniel Parris played inspiring dive-on-the-floor defense, and Bruins star Sean Oliver worked in the paint to put up 14 points. The Bruins were without two starters, one due to injury and Keon Young because he got two technicals against Millikan on Wednesday.

Despite that, they led Poly 22-15 after one quarter and 36-33 at halftime thanks to a deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Michael Kirley.

Bruins coach James Boykin loved the way his team competed shorthanded and on the road.

“I liked our competitiveness and how other guys stepped up,” he said. “When you’re down 30 points of production, it makes it tough--and you miss that consistency in a long game against a good team. But it’s no slight to Poly at all, me as a competitive coach I still felt like we had enough to win that game. But they killed us with the turnovers and on the offensive glass in the second half, and we missed free throws. Those are all things we can fix.”

Kirley’s triple at the end of the first half seemed to wake the Jackrabbits out of their funk in the second half. Sophomore scoring leader Jovani Ruff did not have a single point in the first half, but put up 18 points in the second half as he started getting to the rim and the mid-range in the flow of Poly’s offense instead of forcing it. Poly doubled down faster on Oliver to keep him from getting comfortable, and then turned up the pressure defensively.

Sophomore Austin Unegbu made the difference for Poly, scoring 14 points and grabbing six steals in the second half, plus two assists. He had two steals in a row as part of a big third-quarter Poly run, and also scored six points that quarter, helping Poly to a 55-43 lead after three, as they won the period 22-7.

The Bruins kept fighting, and cut the lead to two points in the fourth, but Ruff and Cash Stokley quickly scored to put Poly back in a comfortable lead, and Ryder Maddox scored six of his 14 points to help grow the lead to double-digits.

“We knew we were in a game, we knew we had to battle and it was going to be easy,” said Unegbu. “I’m saying to myself I have to find a way to help my team, not just offensively but defensively, get stops. And bring the intensity because I know if we put it on them they won’t be able to keep up with us.”

Ruff led Poly with 18 points backed up by 14 apiece from Unegbu and Maddox, while Oliver led Wilson with 24 points and Parris added 11. Sophomore guard Lincoln Dean also added 11 points for Poly.

Wilson hosts Lakewood on Monday while Poly will face Compton at home on Monday.

VIDEO: Long Beach Poly vs Wilson Basketball
Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.
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