Originally Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2012, 5:15 pm
Last Updated: Dec. 29, 2012, 11:40 pm
UT boys fall in Pontiac finale
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By Marc Nesseler, email@example.com
PONTIAC – To United Township boys' basketball coach Marc Polite, leaving the Pontiac Holiday Tournament after the Panthers' 24 years there for the Pekin Holiday Tournament in 2013, it's much like exchanging an exquisite Christmas gift for one more suitable to one's needs.
"You would be hard-pressed to find a tournament better than this one, definitely in Illinois and probably in the Midwest in general," Polite said of the Pontiac tournament, after his Panthers bowed out of their last one with a 66-49 loss to Niles West on Saturday morning.
"The quality of teams is the best there is. The following is great. And the support of the community is amazing. There are so many perks for playing here. They even do our laundry and our game films.
"But, we've got to do what's best for our program for where it's at right now. We have struggled against those top teams in the state (playing state champion Chicago Simeon in the second round last year and opening round this year), and those kinds of losses can have a hangover effect on a team.
"Sure, the five-game guarantee has a little bit to do with it (as Moline gets in DeKalb and Rock Island with a finals finish at Normal), but we need to play teams similar to those that we will see during the season. The Pontiac Tournament has been sort of an anomaly to our season."
Polite has coached in five of the Pontiac tourneys and was a Panthers player there as well. UT closes out its Pontiac run with a 30-40 record, a 2.9 games-per-tournament average.
There are 10 teams with more Pontiac losses than UT, but eight of those have 34 or more years there. The other two are Niles West (25-49 in 27 years) and Streator (20-45 in 24 years).
In their Pontiac swan song, the Panthers (3-11) looked they could have used some morning caffeine. After a 7-7 start, Niles West put together a 9-4 run to end the first quarter and then dominated the next two. The Wolves (9-4) outscored UT 37-22 in those frames to put the game away.
"A large part of that was Niles West more than us," said Polite. "When they hit their gear, they raised it up a level. And they left us behind after their second or third level."
The Panthers put one in double-figures scoring, Lamont Mitchell with 12 points. However, Mitchell was plagued with early foul trouble, and then again to start the second half.
Ryan Merideth topped UT with seven rebounds.