Late surge by Rossville sinks Panthers

Put this one in the “ones that got away” column, because when the Paola Panther Boys look back on the season, they’ll point to Tuesday night’s game at Burlington against the Rossville Bulldogs, scratch their heads, and say “how did we ever come away with a loss there?”

The reasons are simple, and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure it out, it really doesn’t take a terribly astute basketball mind to diagnose this game either. The Panthers were their own worst enemy against the Bulldogs, and it all added up to a frustrating 47-39 loss in the opening round of the Burlington Invitational Tournament on January 19, 2010.

WLH0217 It’s not that the Panthers didn’t play hard, if there’s one thing that’s obvious from this year’s team, they are going to scrap and claw till the last whistle is blown. This was a three point game with three minutes to play, it was a two possession, five point game with one minute to play, the Panthers were in this one to the end, the problem was, they should have won this game, they could have won this game, but they didn’t, and it all added up to a disappointed and frustrated Panther locker room afterwards.

The most telling statistic, other than the fact the Panthers shot ZERO free throws on the night (but more about that later), was Paola had exactly three offensive rebounds, and only 21 rebounds total for the game. Time after time the Panthers would put up a shot, anywhere from a mid-range jumper to a three pointer, to see only Rossville players around the basket to grab the rebound. Part of that can be attributed to Rossville’s zone defense, and part can be blamed on the Panthers for just not crashing the boards, but in a close game, and a game where you’re not getting to the free throw line, it’s imperative to get rebounds and second chance baskets, on Tuesday night, Paola got exactly three, and lost by eight points.

Now about those free throws, the Panthers were 0-0 from the line, now Rossville played a pretty good zone defense, and sealed the paint, as was evidenced by just three offensive rebounds. But on a night when the officiating crew looked like they were tired, it was late, and they wanted to go home, not taking the ball to the basket is a recipe for disaster. The Panthers didn’t foul a lot, only 15 or so for the game, but there were enough fouls on Paola’s part to send Rossville to the line 19 times where they converted 12 times, and won the game by eight points, there’s some patterns developing here.

Combine all that with the fact that one of the Panther’s most consistent offensive and defensive weapons on the season, Nick Wilson went down with an ankle injury with nearly 17 minutes to play in the game, and it all adds up to the eight point, 47-39 loss at the hands of a Rossville team, that while good, was not that good, and could have been, should have been beaten.

But the Panthers weren’t embarrassed, quite the contrary, despite all the check marks in the “con” column, the list of things the Panthers did well was long enough that they had a real chance of winning this game right to the very end.

The Panthers came out of the blocks looking like the team that handled Baldwin last Friday night, Wilson, Skylar Hawkins and Isaac Cotton all hit jumpers to open the game to grab a quick 6-0 lead and force Rossville to call time out a little over two minutes into the contest. Hawkins hit a three pointer a short time later, and the Panthers were enjoying a 9-0 lead and were looking way more athletic than the Bulldogs.

But Rossville settled down, threw up their zone defense, and got some open looks at the basket, and by the time the first quarter ended, the Bulldogs had gone on a 13-2 run and lead 13-11 at the end of the first quarter of play.

The Bulldogs pulled out to a four point 15-11 lead as play opened in the second quarter, only to see the Panthers pull back to even at 15 all a short time later. The Bulldogs again stretched the lead out to six points at 24-18, but a three pointer from Hays cut the lead to three at 24-21, and then following a bucket by Rossville, Wilson hit a field goal to cut the lead to 26-23 and then he nailed a three pointer with about two seconds on the halftime clock to tie the game at 26 as the teams went to the intermission.

Neither team was really sharp in the third period, but the Bulldogs used a 10-6 scoring advantage to open a four point 36-32 lead after the quarter. Cotton and Hays hit jumpers for the Panthers during the quarter, but the injury to Wilson with just under five minutes to play would prove to be telling for the Panthers, as after he went out of the game, Paola would struggle to get the ball inside, as the Bulldogs packed the paint, and dared the Panthers to beat them from the perimeter.

Hays pulled the Panthers back to within two as the fourth quarter started, but the Bulldogs were able to stretch the lead to six points at 40-34 with just over five minutes to play. Oddly enough it was during this stretch that Rossville missed most of their free throws, going 0-5 from the line, while being able to maintain their three to five point advantage. With the score standing a 40-34, Hays hit a three pointer to slice the lead in half at 40-37 with just under four minutes to play, but the Panthers would manage only a field goal by Cotton the rest of the way, and when the game was on the line, the Bulldogs converted five of six free throws to seal the eight point victory.

“We had opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of,” said Panthers Head Coach Dave Cash. “We got a little silly sometimes and tried to force things, when we slowed down things went better.”

The Panthers were lead in scoring by Hays with 12 points, Wilson had tallied 11 points before his injury. Cotton lead the team in rebounding with six, Wilson had five before his injury. The Panthers pressure defense did force Rossville into some bad passes and turnovers, Conner Kresin and Cotton each had three steals, but the Panthers also had 13 turnovers which proved costly in a close game.

The Panthers will regroup and take on Sabetha in the consolation bracket on the tournament on Friday evening. The tournament concludes on Saturday.