Midway through the second quarter, Simeon looked shaken and confused, trailing by double digits to an undersized but hot-shooting Lane squad.
Midway through the third quarter, thanks to 22 consecutive points, the three-time defending city champions were back on track to advance to the quarterfinals of the Public League Playoffs.
That they eventually did, holding off the Indians in the second half to win 66-59.
“I knew they could shoot the ball, and we’ve been playing from behind early anyway, so it wasn’t a big thing for us,” Wolverines coach Robert Smith said. “We just picked up the pressure, that’s all, and made them have to do other stuff — made them have to handle the ball a little bit more, took away the three-point line, and made them drive.”
Antonio Reeves tallied a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double for No. 16 Simeon (15-13), but it was sophomore Ahamad Bynum — only a couple weeks removed from an extended injury absence — who impressively led the way. Bynum finished with 22 points, including 14 in the second-half, on 8-of-13 shooting.
“Bynum, every time we scored, it just seemed like he had a contested answer,” Lane coach Nick LoGalbo said. “Our hands were up; he just made really tough shots.”
LoGalbo’s Indians (15-9) did not replicate that same success. After making four of their first seven three-point attempts, they regressed to a miserable 6-for-21 line from deep the rest of the way. With big man Vuk Djuric completely neutralized inside by Simeon’s athleticism, that was an inefficiency Lane could not afford.
It also didn’t help that the underdog visitors unraveled when Simeon suddenly launched a full-court press upon them out of a second-quarter timeout, called when Lane was leading by a shocking 26-14 margin. At halftime five minutes later, the score was 26-33.
“We were a little bit surprised — they knocked down a bunch of shots at the beginning of the quarter,” Reeves said. “We just had to rearrange our defense and figure out how to get to our shooters.”
“When we started pressing, they couldn’t handle the pressure,” Bynum added. “We started getting fast breaks, stops and then slowed things down and ran our sets.”
Lane’s Jimmy Mulvaney led a bit of a surge in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of his 17 total points in quick succession to keep the Indians within shouting distance, but Simeon did enough down the stretch to keep things from getting too dramatic.
“We competed at a really high level and we had our chances,” LoGalbo said. “When we look back at the tape, that little four-minute stretch in the second quarter, if we handle pressure and we stay locked in, I think it’s a different turnout.”
Smith said his team played “not to lose, instead of playing the game to win” in the final minutes. Considering their half-dozen losses by three points or fewer already this season, that hesitancy was understandable.
But a repeat next Wednesday — of either the ice-cold start or the unconvincing finish — might not turn out quite as well. Simeon will be an underdog for the first time in years in this tournament on the road against No. 4 Young, which rallied from a slight deficit of its own to beat upstart Payton in Thursday’s second-round action.
“It’s just winning five games. You’re just taking it game by game,” Smith said. “We’ve lost so many close games, they’re trying to make that doesn’t happen again.”