By Stephen McKay, Sun Correspondent
While the host North Port Bobcats boys basketball team looked almost unstoppable in winning its third-straight contest Friday night, its performance may have been three days in the making.
With a dominating effort at both ends of the floor, North Port remained perfect in district 8A-12 at 2-0 with a 62-25 win over the Riverdale Raiders Friday night. The Bobcats overall record improved to 6-2. Riverdale slipped to 2-4 overall with an 0-1 mark in the district.
After some quick soul searching followed a sluggish opening half Tuesday night at the Shark Tank, North Port has since proven itself to be the class of the district in the seasons early going. In the game against Gulf Coast, another district opponent, the Bobcats were outscored 17-8 in the first quarter and trailed 36-22 at halftime. North Port then rebounded to shade the Sharks by five points, 67-62.
“In the first half against Gulf Coast we got away from our defensive philosophy and started scrambling and getting lost,” said Bobcats’ head coach Ryan Power. “In the second half we got back to playing the kind of defense we’re capable of. Tonight was a continuation with our defense leading the way. Our defense helped us get a lot of easy baskets in transition.”
The easy buckets came early and often for North Port. The Bobcats jumped on the Raiders with a 12-0 run to start with Adam Cohen popping in the first four. Gene Oliver had the hottest hand for North Port over the first eight minutes with seven points including a three pointer.
The Bobcats led 24-7 after one quarter and 39-13 at the half as they had little trouble penetrating Raiders’ 2-3 zone. The rout was sealed when the North Port defense pitched a shutout in the third quarter for a 50-13 advantage after 24 minutes. Eric Baker put an exclamation point on the third with a swish from downtown.
“Last year we went 4-0 in the district and we thought this year it might just be the same old thing,” said senior Zach Babut. “Gulf Coast got a lot better and gave us a real wakeup call. We figured out at halftime there that we had to start playing ball or we were going to be in real trouble. Coach stressed the importance of getting off to a fast start tonight and that’s just what we did.”
When Evan Clevinger popped in a short jumper 34 seconds into the final quarter, the running clock began and sent the Bobcats to an early victory. In the final quarter the tempo slowed down as each team scored 12 points.
“I don’t think the level of talent was so lopsided, it was really our defensive philosophy,” Power said. “We just play straight man-to-man and these guys just need a gut check before every game to get in there and play their man.”
Ben Via led the Bobcats in scoring with 11 points including seven in the first half. Oliver and Eric Baker each added nine points while Zach and Dominick Babut contributed six apiece. In all, 10 Bobcats scored. Carson Palmquist and Jonathan Penalver led the Raiders with four points apiece.
The Bobcats will make the short road trip to Charlotte on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. start.