Like an annoying bug buzzing around its head, the Potomac Falls High School boys basketball team had been unable to swat away the memory of its season-opening defeat at Broad Run. For six weeks, the Panthers couldn't erase the wretched remnants of a big lead gone up in smoke.

On Friday night, the Panthers played with evident hesitancy and the Spartans with evident inaccuracy as Potomac Falls built another massive lead only to have Broad Run eat away at it. But this time, the Panthers kept the Spartans at arm's length and won, 58-45.

The Spartans (3-5 Northwestern District 4-10 overall), who trailed 29-9 at halftime, cut the margin to 40-33 at the start of the fourth quarter. But then they went cold, the same poison they swallowed in the first half, and went scoreless for more than five minutes as Potomac Falls (4-4, 9-5) scored 10 straight points to earn its fifth straight victory and move into sole possession of fourth place in the Northwestern District. Broad Run, after starting district play at 3-1, has lost four straight in the Northwestern and eight of nine overall.

"We were doing our best not to get caught up in the whole Broad Run thing," said Potomac Falls Coach Jeff Hawes, whose team blew an 18-point lead in its 49-48 loss to the Spartans on Dec. 3. "But it was a strange mood before the game. We just didn't get clicking for a while."

It wasn't so much that the Panthers got clicking as the Spartans went clanging. After scoring off the opening tip, Broad Run went scoreless the next five minutes and did not make a field goal the final 7 minutes 2 seconds of the first half. Although Hawes said it was probably his team's "best defensive half of the season," Broad Run helped make the Panthers look good, missing several layups throughout the game. Sharp-shooter John Costello could not find his stroke all game, and the Spartans played out of control in the open court.

"Sometimes you just have to challenge the kids' manhood if they don't challenge themselves," Broad Run Coach Larry Boomer said of his halftime speech. "We were passive on offense and defense in the first half."

Whatever Boomer said lit a spark in his players. The Spartans started to press the Panthers to key a 16-6 run to start the half and cut the lead to seven on the first play of the fourth quarter. And Hawes started having terrible flashbacks.

"It's hard to play with the same intensity with a 20-point lead," Hawes said. "And when that thing got to seven points, I was thinking, 'Oh, no, here we go again.' That third quarter was a carbon copy of the first game. But that's how much we've grown up in the past six or seven weeks."

A sign of the maturing Panthers is their diverse scoring attack. No longer do they rely on DeMario McCleary to carry them as they had early on. Ian Duff led them this time with 13 points, and Robbie Bouman shook off a nasty third-quarter fall to score 12.

"We're learning lessons while we win," Hawes said. "There's nothing better than that."

Broad Run (3-5, 4-10)--Johnson 3 1-6 7, Ott 4 1-5 9, London 0 0-0 0, Costello 4 3-3 11, Newton 2 1-2 7, Hiatt 5 0-0 11. Totals 18 6-16 45.

Potomac Falls (4-4, 9-5)--Lutman 3 0-0 6, Bouman 6 0-0 12, McIntosh 0 0-1 0, McCleary 5 0-0 10, Embrey 2 2-2 7, Duff 5 3-4 13, Treon 1 1-2 4, Almond 1 0-0 2, Dowdle 0 4-4 4. Totals 23 10-12 58.

Halftime: Potomac Falls, 29-9.

Three-point goals: Broad Run 3 (Newton 2, Hiatt). Potomac Falls 2 (Embrey, Treon).