Perry Hall coach George Panageotou made no bones about how much Monday's game at Poly meant to his team.
"I'm supposed to tell you how this is just another game and we play them one at a time," said Panageotou. "I'm not dancing around it; this was an important game to help put Perry Hall on the map."
Consider the Gators mapped.
No. 15 Perry Hall (10-1) got a layup by Anthony Higgs as time expired to stun a large crowd and defeat host and third-ranked Poly (8-3), 61-59, in a non-league game.
The Gators were paced by LaQuill Hardnett's 20 points. DeShawn Mosley led Poly with 15 points.
The teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 44-44, but Poly turned up the defensive pressure and ran a motion offense that seemed to bewilder the Gators. After two free throws by Christian Chong-Qui, the Engineers had built a 53-46 lead with 5:14 left.
The Gators began chipping away, however, using a layup and four free throws on two separate possessions by James Rider to cut the margin to 53-52 with 3:24 left. After Poly extended the lead to 55-52 on a Jordan Jones jumper, Perry Hall tied the game at 55-55 on a three-point play by Hardnett.
Poly took the lead, 59-58, with 36.6 seconds left on two Mosley free throws, but the Gators tied it with 12.1 seconds left when Rider made one of two free throws after being fouled.
The Engineers ran a play, but a shot by Chong-Qui bounced off the rim and was rebounded by Hardnett, causing Panageotou to immediately call a timeout with 3.2 seconds remaining.
Perry Hall's Reece Wiseman passed to Rider just over midcourt. He turned around and saw Higgs sprinting from the wing toward the basket. Rider's pass hit Higgs in stride, and the sophomore calmly made the game-winning layup, setting off a huge celebration from the Perry Hall fans.
"[Wiseman] was the starting quarterback on the football team, and [Rider] was the starting receiver," said Higgs, who finished with 18 points. "I saw their bigs were playing up, so I headed for the basket, and the pass was there. I took my time and made sure because I knew if I missed we may have lost."
Panageotou said this was not the first time the play has worked this year.
"We ran the same play earlier in the season at Milford Mill, and James [Rider] took the shot," said Panageotou. "I told him to take one look, and if it wasn't there then to pass it to one of the wings. That's what he did."
For the Gators, the win just verified what they already knew.
"We always knew we could play with anyone if we put our minds to it," Rider said. "We've been waiting for a moment like this. Perry Hall hasn't been good in basketball for a long time, and we're known as a football school. Maybe it's time we changed that. "
15 Perry Hall 61, 3 Poly 59
PH – Higgs 18, Hardnett 20, Rider 13, Butler 1, Holley 5, Green 4. Totals: 16 15-37 61.
PY – Jones 12, Mims 14, Tate 4, Perry 9, Mosley 15, Chong-Qui 5. Totals: 20 14-25 59. Half: Poly, 30-27.