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PAXTON – After losing its third game in PBL pool play for the second consecutive year Friday, the Panthers wanted to make sure they went out of the PBL/Manteno Interstate Classic on a high note.
They did just that with a 54-47 victory over Manteno in Saturday’s third-place game. It was the second straight year PBL won third place in the tournament.
“We wanted to make sure we came out and left the tournament on a positive note,” PBL head coach Scot Vogel said Saturday. “We really felt that maybe we let one get away last night.”
The Panthers bounced back Saturday, starting with a Tyler Rubarts three-point play and an Axl Denault field goal to put PBL up 5-0 from the get-go en route to an 11-8 lead at the end of the first quarter. From there, the Panthers never trailed.
Drew Schrodt and Weston Weber – both of whom would receive All-Tournament Team honors – scored 10 and four points in the second quarter, respectively, to give PBL a 25-16 halftime lead. Schrodt and Weber were the Panthers’ leading scorers with 16 and 14 points, respectively.
“I thought Drew and Weston were very consistent during this tournament,” Vogel said.
In the fourth quarter, Manteno managed to cut PBL’s lead to 34-30 before Axl Denault scored a field goal while getting fouled with 7:01 remaining in the game.
It was the first two of eight points Denault would score in that quarter, as he made two 3-pointers en route to finishing the game in double figures with 13 points.
Rubarts made a 3-pointer in the third quarter to finish with six points while Jay Eshleman had a first-quarter 3-pointer and two free-throw conversions in the fourth quarter to finish with five points.
“Our other guys were good, too, at different game and different times,” Vogel said. “Jay, last night had some really good shots that he took – and so did Tyler – and they just didn’t hit them. Tonight, they had a couple buckets for us that were Key. Axl is going to be a kid that can help us. Tyler and Jay, defensively, really get after it, and it takes some pressure off Drew and Weston when they’re trying to guard.”
The Panthers were bounced out of the championship game thanks to a Tri-Valley defense that frustrated PBL with its 1-3-1 zone.
“You’ve got to give Tri-Valley some credit,” Vogel said. “They did a nice job of changing tempo and running a lot of different things, and that’s tough. It’s a lot for a young kid to see at the beginning of the year – all the different things that they do. We’ve got to make sure that, from now on, when we have teams do it like that, we focus to make the adjustments to what they do.”
Vogel said his team did a much better job of adjusting to the zone defense against Manteno.
“They came out with a 1-3-1 defense to start right away, and I thought we were much better and much more patient attacking it and things like that,” Vogel said. “We just didn’t settle, and as a result, they had to pull from it. We feel much more comfortable right now in our man-to-man offense. When we’re in it, I think the kids have a lot more confidence. We’re going to keep working against the zone and things like that. You’ve got to work on your weaknesses and make them strengths.”
The Panthers could only muster nine points in the third quarter. Regardless, Manteno could only cut PBL’s lead to 34-27 entering the fourth quarter thanks to a stifling defense that only allowed eight points in the first and second quarters each and 11 points in the third quarter.
“I thought the defensive effort at the beginning of the game was really good,” Vogel said. “I thought, for the most part, it was good throughout the game with the type of intensity that we wanted to have. We really didn’t come out with a lot of intensity in the second half last night, and we wanted to make sure we did it the whole time tonight, and I thought we did that. That’s something we’ve got to make sure we continue to put emphasis on all year long.”
For Manteno (2-2), Trey Johnson scored 17 points, including a dunk in the third quarter while All-Tournament Team member Zach Austell scored in double figures as well with 10 points.
Kevin Sloat, Manteno’s other All-Tournament representative scored seven points along with John Hofmeister. Cory Presler and Aarries Greer tallied three and two points, respectively, while Jeff Ramey added one point.
The Panthers (3-1) will play an away game at Hoopeston Area at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and will host their Sangamon Valley Conference opener against St. Joseph-Ogden at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“It’s going to be a growing and learning experience throughout the year, and we’re going to have some really good high and some experiences that are low,” Vogel said. “As long as we take it one day at a time and make sure we focus on trying to get better as a team and individually, I think we’re going to be OK.”