Hot shooting help boys down Bulldogs

The Paola Panther boys basketball team showed a spark of promise on Friday night, January 15, 2010 at Baldwin, as they put together a fairly complete game against a quality opponent on the road, and came away with a surprisingly easy 52-36 victory.

Things did not start out so well for the Panthers though as they had to survive an early barrage of scoring from the Bulldogs 6’9” post, Justin Vander Tuig. The Panthers really don’t match up well with that kind of size, as they give up a minimum of three inches in the paint, but despite Vander Tuig pouring in 15 of his game high 21 points in the first half, and accounting for all of Baldwin’s scoring in the first quarter, the Panthers were able to settle down and open a double digit halftime lead.

WLH0652 Vander Tuig hit the game’s first six points, all from close range as the Bulldogs jumped to a 6-0 lead, but Travis Hays hit a bucket and Nick Wilson, in a harbinger of things to come hit the first of his four, that’s right four, three pointers in the first half to cut the lead to one at 6-5. The Panthers were on fire in the first half from beyond the arc, as they nailed an incredible seven three pointers in the opening half and jumped to an 11 point 31-20 lead at the intermission.

Baldwin answered the Panthers with another Vander Tuig bucket to lead 8-5, but Wilson nailed another three pointer to pull the Panthers even at eight. Brandon Goodman put the Panthers in the lead with a basket a short time later, it was a lead Paola would not relinquish.

Isaac Cotton got into the scoring ring late in the quarter as he hit a basket to give the Panthers a four point lead at 12-8, then after Vander Tuig hit his fifth basket of the quarter, and with time running out in the period, Cotton nailed the Panthers third three pointer of the game to give Paola a 15-10 lead as the quarter ended.

Vander Tuig hit two more baskets to open the scoring in the second quarter for the Bulldogs, but the Panthers answered with three pointers from Skylar Hawkins, Connor Kresin and Wilson’s third of the game to jump to a ten point, 24-14 advantage.

After Jesse Smail hit a close in basket to open a twelve point lead for the Panthers, Caleb Gaylord became the first Bulldog not named Vander Tuig to score in the game to pull the Bulldogs back to within ten points at 26-16. Nick Wilson hit a conventional basket to bump the lead back to twelve before Vander Tuig got his 15th point of the half a short time later to cut the lead back to 11 points at 28-17. Wilson hit his fourth trey of the half, as time was winding down to give the Panthers a 14 point lead at 31-17, but Gaylord answered with a three pointer to cut the lead back to 11 at the half at 31-10.

The second half started shakily for the Panthers, and although they never really lost control of the game, it was more a product of the Bulldogs inability to capitalize, rather than the Panthers ability to play with the lead. First, the golden touch from beyond the arc left the Panthers in the second half, almost as magically as it appeared in the first. After seeing seven threes split the nets in the first half, the Panthers spent the first half of the third quarter putting up three point shots and watching them bounce harmlessly off the rim, give the Bulldogs every opportunity to get back into the game.

Fortunately for the Panthers, the Bulldogs were unable to capitalize and when the Paola guards finally got the message to slow down the pace and work some clock, the closest the Bulldogs had been able to come was the same 11 point margin they started the third quarter at.

The Panthers had an opportunity to really blow the game open early in the third quarter. Leading by 13 points at 33-20, Brandon Goodman was fouled on a breakaway opportunity, the officials ruled the foul as flagrant, giving Goodman two shots and the Panthers possession of the ball following the free throws.

Goodman was unable to convert either charity toss, and then the Panthers turned the ball over without a shot on the following possession, getting no points when they had an opportunity to push out to a 15-18 point lead. But that didn’t hurt Paola, and by the end of the third quarter the Panthers were enjoying a 15 point lead at 41-26.

Cotton pushed the Panther lead to 17 at 43-26 to open the fourth quarter, and the Bulldogs made a quick six point run to cut the lead back to 11 at 43-32, but that was as close as they would come. The Bulldogs had a chance to turn the game into a free throw shooting contest late, as the Panthers were more than content to move the ball around the perimeter of the Bulldog defense and wait for a back door cut opportunity or a foul to put them at the line.

Hawkins and Hays pushed the Panther lead back to 15 points at 47-32 with four straight free throws, and after Vander Tuig’s final points of the game cut the lead to 13 at 47-34, Justin Dunmars missed the front end of a one and one and Hawkins hit one of two from the line to make the score 48-34. The foul which put Hawkins on the line was the tenth of the half on the Bulldogs which meant the Panthers would shoot two shots on each foul the rest of the way.

But the Bulldogs basically gave up with just under two minutes to play, one more foul put Hayes on the line to make the score 54-30 and Hawkins added a basket late, after Gaylord had scored for Baldwin and the final score stood at 56-32.

“You deserved that one,” said Panthers Head Coach Dave Cash. “You’ve worked too long and too hard not to enjoy a win like that.”

But the Panthers locker room smiles were tempered in the fact that everyone knew that as well as they played, there was room for improvement. The Panthers were fortunate that Baldwin was not able to seize momentum in the early stages of the second half, when old habits started to creep back into the Panthers play.

“You’ve got to learn to play with the lead,” Cash said. “You have to do the little things, you didn’t do that early in the second half, and could have made things much more difficult.”

The Panthers now turn their attention to the Burlington Invitational Tournament, where Paola will enter as a seven seed, taking on two seed Rossville in the late game on Tuesday, January 19, 2010.

“We’ve won that thing (Burlington Tournament) four times,” Cash said. “Some of those times we weren’t supposed to. Let’s go down there and get as much as we can out of that thing.”