ROYAL CENTER — By the time a high school team gets to January on their schedule, they need to learn how to play solid basketball on back-to-back nights.
Unfortunately, the Pioneer Panthers were unable to put together back-to-back wins this past weekend.
After defeating Caston in a pivotal conference matchup on Friday night, the Panthers played host to the Rossville Hornets on Saturday night. Taking on the visitors and playing a solid first half of basketball, the Panthers’ wheels fell off in the second half as they let a seven-point halftime lead slip away in just over a minute as they fell to the Hornets by a 63-50 final score.
Tied 12-all after the first quarter, Pioneer (9-6) built a 33-26 halftime lead. Rossville (13-4) took control in the second half. The Hornets led 44-41 after the third quarter and went on for the 13-point win.
“I thought just before the half momentum had definitely switched our way,” said Panthers coach Austin Cowley. “[Logan] Nusbaum had the three-point play and then he hit the two free throws off the technical foul and that gave us a seven-point lead at the half and I thought we were getting control of the game at that time. Then, at the start of the second half we were just so slow in getting back to help on the weak side and they ended up getting three quick easy baskets out of it and it erased all momentum that we had going at that time.
”After the timeout we wanted to keep pushing the ball against their press but we ended up turning the ball over a couple times and I guess you could say we had some guys taking some ill-advised shots. Then on missed shots when the ball was tipped out, there were two or three guys in red shirts there to get the ball and at that point Rossville was dictating the speed of the game and had taken control.
“… They really outplayed us the rest of the way as we only scored 17 points in the second half. On top of that we only hit one 3-pointer on the night and you have to hit more than that if you want to win the game.”
Ezra Lewellen started the game looking as if he might be in the running for player of the game. He scored early and rebounded often and was crucial to Pioneer’s early start. The Panthers jumped to a 12-7 lead, but Rossville knocked down a score to end the run and then a 3-pointer before the buzzer made it a 12-12 game at the end of one complete.
“I don’t know, I think they just had a little more juice than we did,” said Lewellen. “Earlier in the game it seemed like we had a few turnovers and they were getting easy baskets when we turned the ball over. And then, when we were on defense it just didn’t seem like we were getting back in time to help out on weak-side defense and they were able to take advantage of that too.”
It didn’t take long in the second quarter for the Panthers to settle in and start to take control of the game. With the Panthers getting balanced scoring up to this point in the game seven Panthers had entered the contest and all seven had scored. By the 3:15 mark the Pioneer guards were finding success by penetrating for the short jumper or by dishing off for easy baskets. By doing this Pioneer had claimed a short lead and we’re showing that they had taken control.
Just before the halftime buzzer Nusbaum was going in for a layup and was fouled by Jaden Brown. Nusbaum’s basket was good and the senior hit his free throw. Before Nusbaum went to the line for his shot a technical foul was called on the Hornets’ Damon Shaw. After Nusbaum hit the foul shot he stayed at the line and made both technical freebies as the Pioneer lead grew to 33-26 and that score stood as the halftime score.
When play resumed in the third quarter those in attendance swore they saw a different Pioneer team take the court. After just 1:10 of play the Hornets erased the halftime deficit trailing by just one point after opening the third with a 6-0 run. Pioneer was forced to take a timeout and with 6:50 left in the third quarter and following the Pioneer timeout, Rossville scored again to make it a 36-35 game. Up by this many as five points on two occasions the Hornets were unable to hold off the Panthers as Pioneer twice answered to get to within three, the second time being at the end of the quarter when Rossville led by a 44-41 score.
In the final quarter and the press being applied by Rossville, Pioneer found themselves having difficulty getting the ball down the floor. When they pushed the ball trying to get past the press they were met by turnovers time and time again. Rossville, on the other hand took advantage of the turnovers with easy transitional baskets.When they weren’t scoring in transition Pioneer fouls were putting them on the line for free throw attempts. With Rossville being put on the line for free throw attempts and continuing to press the Panthers on nearly every possession the Hornets were able to pull away for the 63-50 win.
Leading the Hornets in scoring with a game-high 22 points was Dirk Shaw. Rossville also got scoring from Jesse Cornell with 14 points and Luke Meek pitching in 11 points of his own.
Pioneer also finished the night with three players in double figures. Nusbaum had a team-high 16 points followed by Lewellen with 12 and Gage Cripe with 10 points.