Panthers’ 2nd-half rally not enough against Dragons
By Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]
As the boys’ basketball regular season draws to a close, the Corydon Central Panthers are gearing up for a possible post-season run.
After defeating Christian Academy of Indiana last Tuesday, the Panthers notched not only their eighth consecutive victory, but have also won 12 of their last 13 contests. As they suited up for their final home game of the season, the Panthers put their winning ways to the test when they hosted two-time defending Class 3A state champion Silver Creek to close out Mid-Southern Conference play on Friday.
Despite the Dragons coming into the contest with a subpar 9-11 record, they took advantage of a Panthers’ offense that struggled in the first half. While the hosts rallied in the second half, it wasn’t enough as the Dragons flew away with a 62-57 victory.
“We were hitting our shots at the very beginning of the game, got some stops and put the ball in the basket a few times, then we forgot how we got the lead and how we got to where we needed to be,” Panthers’ head coach Joseph Hinton said. “We didn’t get back on defense, and we took a lot of bad shots due to some really poor shot selection. When you shoot bad shots, you’re not in a good position to rebound and not in a good position to get back on defense.”
The Dragons drew first blood on a bucket from Branden Northern, but a three-pointer from senior guard Owen Shireman ignited a 7-0 Panthers’ run. For the period, senior guard Nolan Ables added a triple alongside four points from junior forward Anthony Martin, buckets from junior guard Tyler Fessel and senior guard Bryce Weber and two free throws from junior center Austin Vaughn.
Zac Stricker helped keep the Dragons in the game early as he led all scorers in the period with nine points. Cooper Murley and Cameron Wheeler added buckets, while Northern chipped in two free throws to give the Dragons a 17-15 edge to conclude the opening frame.
The Panthers struggled to hit the outside shot in the second quarter, allowing the Dragons to explode offensively. Northern led the charge as he notched 14 points, followed by baskets from Stricker, Wheeler and Walker Hoffman. The Panthers could only counter with a bucket apiece from Shireman, Vaughn and freshman forward Thomas Wilkinson alongside a free throw apiece from Fessel and Martin before limping into the locker room while facing a 37-23 deficit.
“Our goal was to keep (Stricker) limited from all the baskets he makes down low and try to keep him from penetrating,” Hinton said. “We didn’t do a very good job of keeping him out of the paint so he got hot and, once he got hot, he hit some wide-open three-pointers.
“Northern hit some crazy shots, but once he got hot, it’s tough to stop a guy like that,” he added.
The second half began as a much tighter contest as the Panthers began the third quarter on a 9-4 run. Ables, Weber and Fessel led the charge in the period with five points apiece followed by buckets from Martin and Vaughn. The Dragons countered with a Stricker triple amid buckets from Northern, Wheeler, Hoffman and Hayden Garten, but they began to feel the pressure as the advantage shrank to 48-42 to end the frame.
Heading into the final quarter, the Panthers managed to cut the deficit to one, 51-50, as Martin led the charge with six points to begin the period. The Dragons answered, showing why they won the last two Class 3A state championships as Northern pulled his squad away with eight points, followed by a three and freebie from Nate Davidson and a Wheeler bucket. Martin closed the gap for the Panthers with three more free throws followed by a Shireman basket, though it could only cut the deficit to a final of 62-57.
Northern took charge of this contest as he led all scorers with 28 points followed by 14 from Stricker. Martin led the way for the Panthers with 16.
Upon falling to the Dragons, the Panthers watched their eight-game winning streak fall by the wayside. On the bright side for the Panthers, it was just their second loss in their past 14 games. Such a loss so close to the postseason can only serve as a lesson should the Panthers confront the Dragons in the sectional championship next week.
“If we’re going to beat Silver Creek, we know that we have to keep Branden Northern from penetrating; we have to keep the ball out of his hands and know where he is at all times,” Hinton said. “Our defensive effort has to be better; we have to be up and ready to go (defensively). Then on the boards, we missed a few block outs tonight, which cost us a few points and a few possessions.”
Despite drawing the bye in the sectional 30 at Salem, the Panthers’ post-season journey will be daunting as they await the winner of Charlestown and Class 3A No. 12 North Harrison next Friday. Before worrying about their post-season fate, they concluded the regular season by traveling to Elizabeth yesterday (Tuesday) to confront county rival South Central.