Little lapses spell big trouble for Paola

As the old saying goes, “it’s the little things that matter most,” and right now, it’s the little things that are meaning the difference between winning and losing for the Paola Panthers Boys Basketball team.

On Friday night, January 22, 2010, the Panthers did almost none of the little things in basketball, and it cost them in the form of a 57-46 loss to the Sabetha High School Bluejays in consolation semi-final action at the Burlington Invitational Basketball tournament.

WLH0319 “We didn’t do the things we could control,” said Panthers Head Coach Dave Cash after the game. “We didn’t talk, we didn’t box out, we just didn’t play very well tonight.”

To start things off, the Panthers committed a whopping 27 fouls, sending the Bluejays to the line 32 times. Granted, Sabetha was woeful from the line hitting only 17 of 32 for 53%, but given the fact the Panthers hit just 11 of 22 for 50% accounts for six of the nine point deficit. Break those 27 fouls down, and you see that three players fouled out, Travis Hayes, Connor Kresin and Skylar Hawkins, two other players, Justin Dunmars and Anthony West each had four fouls. Hayes went to the bench with just under a minute to play in the third quarter, even then he was the Panthers leading scorer with 17 points. Needless to say, his presence was sorely missed by Paola down the stretch.

Then there’s rebounding, according to the stat sheet, the Panthers grabbed 20 rebounds, and although over half (11) were offensive rebounds, that stat might me a bit misleading, as several of those rebounds came off missed shots from point blank range, which were then converted to defensive rebounds by Sabetha. Also, when watching the Panthers, too many times on the night, a shot would go up from the field in the 15-18 foot range, and all five players would be standing near the three point arc, watching the ball come off the rim and into the hands of Sabetha, rather than moving to the ball, watching the angle of the rebound and fighting for position to pull in the loose ball.

Communication on the court was problematic at best for the Panthers, as countless times, the Bluejays would beat their man to a spot, getting way too many offensive rebounds off missed free throws, or scoring off an inbounds play, or just out hustling to a loose ball. Numerous times, the Sabetha player would drive to the basket and either have a clear lane to the hoop, or pick up a foul on a reach or block.

The list is endless, and all in all it was not a pretty sight, but even with all that the Panthers had going against them with just under two minutes to play in the game, Paola trailed by only seven points at 51-44, and were just one or two three pointers away from pulling out a miracle win.

Of course, the prayers weren’t answered, and the miracle didn’t happen, but this game was another prime example of a team just not pulling together with the right amount of fire and intensity to win. The Panthers had a clear advantage in athleticism, but just couldn’t take advantage. Oh yea, by the way, the Panthers leading scorer on the season Nick Wilson did not play because of an ankle sprain suffered in Tuesday night’s loss to Rossville.

The first quarter is a prime example of how, now matter how bad the Panthers played, Sabetha was determined to not let them get to far behind. Sabetha had opened a 9-2 lead on the Panthers, as Paola managed just two of four Justin Dunmars free throws, through the first seven minutes of the game, then all of a sudden, Hayes hit a three pointer at about a minute to play and followed that up with another with about two seconds to play in the quarter and despite everything, the Panthers trailed by only one at the end of the quarter 9-8.

Hayes and Dunmars combined for two baskets to give the Panthers their first, and only lead of the game, at 12-11 just into the second quarter, but the Panthers would not score again until late in the half on two free throws from Hayes, by this time the Bluejays lead 19-12. The Hayes charity tosses and a Bluejay basket as time ran out made the halftime advantage seven points at 21-14.

The Panthers managed just four points, two from Anthony West and two from Dunmars through the first four or five minutes of the second half, and the Bluejays pulled out to a 12 point lead at 30-18, and it looked for all practical purposes that Sabetha would run away and hide from that point on.

But the Panthers pulled themselves out of their funk, went on a 12-4 run and when Hayes scored the final two of his 17 points with less than two minutes to play in the quarter, the Sabetha lead had been sliced back to four at 34-30. It would be the final points for Hayes in the game, and the Panthers in the quarter, as with about 45 seconds to play in the third quarter, Hayes picked up his fifth foul, and the Bluejays ended the quarter on a 6-0 run to grab a 10 point lead as the fourth quarter began.

The Bluejays run grew to 11-0 with five straight points to open the fourth quarter, and with just over five minutes to play in the game, the Panthers called time out to discuss the situation. Kresin pulled Paola back again from the brink with a three pointer coming out of the time out, but less than a minute later he too took a spot on the bench, picking up his fifth foul on a charge with just over four minutes to play.

After a Sabetha field goal Hawkins hit a three pointer for Paola to pull the Panthers to 11 down at 47-36, and a short time later back to back baskets by Cotton and Dunmars cut the lead to single digits at 49-40. With Sabetha in the double bonus and the Panthers in the bonus, the last two minutes turned into a free throw shooting contest, and early on, the Panthers got the better of things, as after two Sabetha free throws made the score 51-40, Dunmars connected on four straight charity tosses to pull the Panther to within seven at 51-44 with 1:49 to play in the game.

Sabetha made six of ten free throws in the last 1:49 and the Panthers managed only a Hawkins basket in the same time period, and the game ended with the Panthers on the short end of a very disappointing 57-46 score.

“Win or lose, if you play hard and smart, I can handle it,” Cash said. “We didn’t do either thing tonight, we need to start taking pride in being a Panther.”

Paola will have no time to feel sorry for themselves, as they must return to Burlington to play in the seventh place game at noon on Saturday, January 23, 2010. Paola will return home next week when they will host Osage City on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 and Eudora, in the annual winter homecoming game on Friday, January 29, 2010.