Maybe Gilbert Perry was too naive to realize it shouldn’t win this game.
The 11th-seeded Pumas shrugged off the odds stacked against them to beat No. 6 Queen Creek, 61-46, in the first round of the 4A-II boys basketball tournament on Tuesday night at Queen Creek.
Queen Creek was the East Sky Region champion and undefeated at home this season. Perry had been without point guard Beau Renaud, one of its best players, since late January and started freshman Desmond Howard in his place.
Furthermore, the team doesn’t have any seniors, as this is their first year of varsity action.
But if the Pumas felt any pressure, it didn’t show. They jumped out to a 13-0 lead, watched as Queen Creek rallied, then ended the game on a 23-7 run for the first playoff victory in school history.
“We’ve been through a lot of experiences, and this time of year is when you need that poise,” Perry coach Mark Nold said. “Our kids have no playoff experience ... but they really made some huge plays.”
Queen Creek didn’t score its first points until 2:13 left in the first quarter, and trailed 18-5 with 11 seconds remaining in the period.
From that point, the Bulldogs took control, rallying all the way back and taking a 3-point lead into the fourth quarter. The lead was still 39-38 with 5:43 to go, but Perry scored 18 of the next 19 points and coasted to the victory.
Chase Richardson knocked down 11-of-12 free throws in the final 2:24 and ended with a game-high 23 points. Ronnie Spoon was impressive inside, scoring 17 points, including a crucial one-handed layup to put Perry up 3 with 4:55 remaining.
Howard, the freshman, manned the point guard position almost the entire game. He admitted to nervousness early, but played like a veteran down the stretch, coming up with a steal and a layup with 1:16 to go to clinch the win.
“We know we have to come out (hard), no matter what our age is and what the obstacles are,” he said.
Howard had to run the offense while being guarded by Zane Garcia, the best defender for Queen Creek. Howard held his own in the matchup.
“He really came of age tonight,” Nold said.
Perry blew out Queen Creek at home in mid-December, and the Bulldogs returned the favor on Jan. 27 in their gym. But besides the Pumas’ early and late runs, this one was close.
The lead changed hands six times in three minutes in between the third and fourth quarters.
Perry moves on to face No. 3 seed Tucson Amphitheater on Friday.
“It’s going to be another hostile environment, and a two hour bus ride,” Nold said. “But I wouldn’t count these guys out of anything.”