By John Stepp
The Knox Central Panthers brought home the first-place trophy with a 54-34 win over the Upperman, Tenn., Bees in the championship game of the Williamsburg Holiday Tournament on Saturday. The Panthers defeated the Bees and the Buckhorn Wildcats to make it to the finals of the tournament. Upperman knocked out Buckhorn, before losing to Knox Central for the second straight time.
The game was a defensive struggle for the most part, as the Panthers held the uptempo offense of the Bees in check for the entire game. Upperman scored 20 points in the first quarter of the teams' first matchup, but managed only 34 points for the entire game in their second meeting, including just 15 second-half points.
“We started in our 1-3-1 zone today and we hardly ever start zone. But after giving up 20 points in the first quarters of our last two games, I said if we're ever going to try something different, it's time now,” said Evans. “That helped us to get off to a good start defensively and we were able to keep that point total down for the remainder of the game.”
Both teams were back and forth in the first half of the game in what was a battle of the big men. Freshman center Chad Marsee scored the first four points of the game for the Panthers, helping them to an early 10-8 lead after the first quarter. Upperman big man Joe Jones scored nine of his team-high 15 points in the first half, keeping his team in the game, as Knox Central held on to a 22-21 halftime lead.
With the lineup of Marsee and fellow center Tobie Merida, the Panthers were able to control the paint for the majority of the game. Knox Central was also able to get several rebounds out of their guards, including Jacob Wilburn who led the team with eight boards.
“I was pleased with the way our guys played tonight and just their approach to this game. It wasn't a huge crowd, but kind of a tense atmosphere,” said Evans. "We've been looking for our guards and some perimeter guys to start rebounding the ball better for us, and Jacob (Wilburn) did a great job of that today, along with the other guys.”
Knox Central came out on fire after halftime, opening with a 9-2 run to begin the third quarter. Sophomore guards Dustin Hensley and Matthew Barger were dominating the Upperman backcourt. The duo combined for 13 of the Panthers' 15 third-quarter points, as they headed into the final quarter with a 37-30 advantage.
Barger would have to leave the game, however, near the end of the third quarter with what appeared to be a hip injury. Barger was set to be examined after the game, according to Evans.
“We don't think it was dislocated. We think it may be a hip pointer or stinger or something like that. He's on his way to be evaluated,” said Evans.
Even with their star point guard out of the game, Knox Central did not let up. The Panthers scored the first 13 points of the fourth quarter, jumping out to a 50-30 with just under four minutes left in the game. Upperman could get no closer to 16 and with reserves in the game, Knox Central held on for a 54-34 victory.
Evans was pleased with his team's performance, especially after losing arguably their best player.
“We had to use some different guys tonight. Brandon Garrison, who is usually our first guard off the bench, had his knee bothering him tonight. Then Matthew (Barger) went down, and we had to go a little deeper into our bench,” said Evans. “Going from a 10-point lead to a 20-point lead after Matthew (Barger) went out can be attributed to Jeffrey Adams doing a good job handling the ball. We did a better job handling the pressure. He came through and that shows me he learned from the experience playing without Matthew (Barger) for the past week or so.”
The Panthers return to action on New Year's day, hosting Riverside Christian.
Knox Central 54, Upperman 34
Knox Central 10 12 15 17 54
Upperman 8 13 9 4 34
Knox Central (54) - Hensley 14, Barger 12, Marsee 9, Merida 9, Wilburn 4, Adams 4, Austin Hobbs 2
Upperman (34) - Jones 15, Jared Case 6, Dylan Hedgecoth 6, Dalton Debarger 5, Tyler McWilliams 2