Pungo hangs on for conference-opening win

Published 12:23 am Wednesday, December 6, 2017

BELHAVEN — Pungo overcame shooting lulls and a late push by Albemarle School to preserve a 54-47 win in its Tar Heel Independent Conference opener. The young Raiders squad finished with six unanswered points to create separation down the stretch.

The Colts used a 13-0 run in the fourth quarter to pull as close as one, 48-47, with just over two minutes left in the game. Their rally began in the third quarter. Miller O’Neal’s 3-pointer pushed Pungo’s lead to a game-high 20 points, 42-22.

Then the visitors uncorked an 8-2 spurt to finish the third. That carried into the fourth. Pungo coach Mart Benson called a timeout once the Colts began their fourth-quarter run.

“I think we were really focused in the first half and made some good runs. We lost our focus in the third quarter and the first half of the fourth quarter,” Benson said. “We’re a really young team. I think we responded well to finish this one out.

“I told them to stay focused and that we couldn’t stall the ball. We had to go back to doing what got us the lead to start with. I think they did a good job of getting some open looks.”

It took some time for the Raiders to settle down and heed Benson’s message, but it clicked just in time.

Albemarle got out and running, but Pungo closed the gap after trailing 6-3 early on. Ben Simmons and Ryan Bishop hopped out in transition, using the Raiders’ aggressive defense to fuel its offense. Bishop helped give his side some breathing room by completing a 3-point play when he finished a layup through contact and converting at the free-throw line.

That gave Pungo a 12-8 lead after the first eight minutes. It never trailed again.

Bishop led Pungo on an 11-0 run that started with that surge to end the first. He added four more on two transition buckets early in the second, turning an 8-7 deficit into an 18-8 lead.

The Raiders weren’t done there. Cameron Howell and Nate VanStaalduinen were able to put home second-chance baskets. Pungo held its own inside despite being outmatched in the size department.

“I thought we did very well on the boards. I was very proud of the guys,” Benson said. “We knew they rebounded the ball well coming into this game.”

All in all, the younger Raiders were able to use effort to mask many of their deficiencies. They were active on the defensive end of the floor and competed on the glass to make up for missed chances.

Pungo saw that effort pay off this time. It fell short in a 5-point loss to Ridgecroft in its last time out. The Raiders were resilient in hanging on for the win this time.

Pungo will host league foe Hobgood Academy on Friday.