By John Stepp For The Times Tribune
KNOX CENTRAL — In the first game of the season, the Knox Central Panthers lost 72-62 to the Perry Central Commodores, who are arguably the top team out of the 14th Region.
In the rematch with the Commodores on Tuesday, the Panthers were able to take the game into overtime, but fell just short in a thrilling 63-60 loss.
While Coach Brian Evans and his squad do not believe in moral victories, the close game only showcased how much Knox Central has improved since the beginning of the season, as they have become the 13th Region's hottest team.
“We have come a long way since that game. Just our knowledge of the game and where to be defensively have improved so much,” Evans said. “We understand what we're doing better, and we have shown a great deal of improvement. This was a good measuring stick for us, but we've got to keep making progress.”
Knox Central has shown tremendous progress since December, and the loss to Perry Central is just their second of 2014. The Commodores have also been on a nice run during the second half of the season, losing just two games, as well, on their way to a top-20 ranking in the state.
“I'm really proud of our team. Perry Central is one of the best teams in the state,” Evans said. “You aren't going to find many teams who have a point guard of that caliber and a quality big man, with players around them like that. We're right there, close to being able to win at that level.”
The game really came down to a battle of the big men, as Knox Central sophomore Chad Marsee and Perry Central senior Justin Johnson squared off in the paint. Marsee led the Panthers with 17 points and eight rebounds on the night, but was overshadowed by Johnson's 25 point, 15-rebound performance.
Knox Central got off to a great start in the opening quarter. A three-point basket by Dustin Hensley and Jeffrey Adams, helped the Panthers to a 9-0 lead, just two minutes into the game. Hensley would nail another shot from beyond the arc midway through the quarter to put Knox Central up 12-4. Perry Central would score six quick points in the final two minutes to cut the lead to 14-10 after one.
“We got off to a great start. We were making shots and running our stuff well,” Evans said. “Perry Central has played several games over the last few days, and they were maybe a little leg weary in the beginning. It was a battle after that, but we did a good job of keeping up, despite some foul trouble.”
The Commodores cut the lead to 16-15 to start the second quarter with a three-point shot from Austin Neace. The teams fought back-and-forth for the duration of the second quarter with the Panthers taking a 26-19 lead with just over three minutes left in the half.
Back-to-back baskets by Johnson and a putback from senior Tyler Fugate, cut the Knox Central lead to 28-27 with :30 remaining in the second quarter, but an and-one by Knox Central freshman Tanner Wells gave the Panthers a 31-27 advantage heading into halftime.
“I think the adrenaline of the game caught up with us late in the first quarter and early in the second. We made uncharacteristic turnovers and decisions with the ball,” Evans said. “They really turned the pressure up when Matthew (Barger) went out and it made it difficult on our guards. We wanted to rest Nate (Cole), but he is our ball handler with Matthew is out.”
The teams came out battling in the third quarter. Perry Central was able to tie the game for the first time on a basket by Johnson to make the score 32-32 with 5:15 left in the third. The Commodores would also take their first lead in the quarter, when a jumper by point guard Braxton Beverly put Perry Central up 37-36 with 3:55 left. A three by Knox Central's Jeffrey Adams would send the game into the 43-43 tie, heading into the final quarter.
The fourth quarter was much like the third. Both teams battled it out with Perry Central maintaining the lead for most of the period. A basket by Barger gave the Panthers the lead with just over two minutes left in the game. Beverly finished on an and-one that put the Commodores up 54-53 with 1:14 left, but a finish by Marsee in the lane tied the game at 55-55. Beverly held on for the last shot in regulation, but missed on a jumper, sending the game to overtime.
Perry Co. Central 63, Knox Central 60 OT
Knox Central 14 17 12 12 5 – 60
Perry Co. Central 10 17 16 12 8 – 63
Perry Central (63) – Johnson 25, Beverly 16, Neace 6, Matthew Turner 6, John Toomer 4, Tyler Fugate 2, Austin Hill 2, Damon Tobler 2.
Knox Central (60) – Marsee 17, Barger 13, Cole 11, Hensley 10, Adams 6, Wells 3.
By John Stepp For The Times Tribune
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