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The look on Zach Fong’s face as he poured out a side door of Potomac High School and headed for the bus was telling. The senior guard was understandably subdued after his team picked up its first district loss of the season.
Panthers Catch Fire in Second Half, Down Indians 78-70
© Gainesville Times
But there was no hint of doubt, no notion that one play, a tipped ball or wayward pass, might have turned things around or led to a different result than the 78-70 final tally.
Rather, with Fong there was a heady understanding that the Indians had run into a Potomac team that caught fire in the second half and might have completed its comeback sans the use of its hands.
“They shot the ball like crazy tonight,” said Fong of Potomac’s second half explosion. “I think if they wanted to kick the ball in the hoop, it would’ve went in.”
What Fong was referring to was a 28-point third quarter from the Panthers that erased a 35-27 deficit and replaced it with a six-point lead by the start of the final stanza.
The architect of the comeback was Potomac junior forward Randy Haynes, who scored 12 points in the third, highlighted by a rim-rocking slam that gave the Panthers a 50-49 lead that they would never relinquish.
“Randy’s kind of the leader of this group,” said Potomac head coach Keith Honore of Haynes, who finished with 29 points. “When he gets it going, we tend to follow. At halftime, he was one of the kids we challenged to make some adjustments offensively: one move, straight to the basket. And if you saw him in the second half, that's exactly what he did.”
While the Panthers seemingly couldn’t miss from the floor, their biggest adjustment was on the defensive end, a marked effort to slow down Gar-Field’s Curtis Lovitt. Lovitt had twelve points in the first half, but was limited to just one field goal over the final two quarters.
Honore credited junior Maalik Howard with locking down Lovitt down the stretch.
“We had to do a better job on Curtis,” said Honore. “He’s a heck of a player. He caused some problems for us throughout the entire game… Maalik Howard really stepped up there in the second half and made life a little bit miserable for Curtis.”
Gar-Field (15-2, 7-1) started well, leading 20-14 after the first quarter and 35-27 at halftime, but that advantage evaporated quickly as Potomac (11-4, 6-1) opened the third quarter on a 5-0 run.
Honore was pleased to see the third quarter, an Achilles’ heel for the Panthers this season, play out like it did.
“In the games we’ve lost this year, we’ve been winning at halftime and we’ve come out and played horrible in the third quarter,” he said. “Last week, we spent some time trying to fix that. Tonight I guess it helped that we were down.”
Gar-Field coach Andy Gray acknowledged that splitting the regular season with Potomac means his team and the Panthers are virtually deadlocked for the district’s coveted number one seed.
But Gray’s focus had already shifted to the Indians' four remaining district games and a non-league tilt with Stonewall next week.
“This whole story hasn’t been written,” said Gray. “This is just another game on the road to the Cardinal.”