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PAXTON – For the Panthers, Friday’s Sangamon Valley Conference opener against St. Joseph-Ogden would be a chance
After all, the Spartans are returning pretty much the entire roster from last year’s team, which won 23 games and won a regional title. Shortly before Friday’s game, SJ-O received 12 votes for the Class 2A No. 1 ranking – although it did not crack the top 10.
“I was looking forward to playing this game because I wanted to see exactly where we’re at and where we needed to work,” PBL head coach Scot Vogel said. “St. Joe, year-in and year-out, is going to be good, quality competition. They’re getting preseason accolades. They’re the preseason pick to win the conference. There’s a reason for that. They’re very deep. They’ve got everybody back from a team that won 23 games and a regional championship last year, and I think it’s good for us to come out and see where we’re at. It’s early in the year, and you want to see exactly where we’re at so you’ve got time to grow.”
The Spartans (2-0) showed why they are the preseason SVC favorite – and exposed PBL’s room for improvement – via 78-45 victory.
“I think it was a good eye-opening experience for our kids,” Vogel said. “We knew there’d be growing pains this year as the season went on. We knew there’d be some ups and downs with those growing pains, and this is just one of them. I think the main thing is that we’ve got to make sure that we continue to work hard in practice and we demand the high expectations and standards that we have and make sure we don’t back down from that. Even though we lost – and it’s not something that we’re happy about – it’s also something where you know that you can go and make adjustments and then get ready as the season progresses.”
Drew Schrodt sank two 3-pointers en route to 10 points in the first quarter to keep the game competitive for at least the opening quarter. SJ-O’s Chase Patton drained three 3-point shots himself to lead his team to a 22-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Schrodt connected on another shot from beyond the arc to make the score 30-20 and conclude his scoring at a team-high 13 points. Axl Denault made a two-point field goal before the Spartans’ Brent Schluter connected on a three-point play in the lane while getting fouled by Kyler Swanson with 3:24 left in the first half.
Weston Weber and Tyler Rubarts each made a free throw to cut SJ-O’s lead to 33-24 before the Spartans started a 9-0 run that gave them a 42-20 lead at halftime.
Louis Acklin’s 3-pointer was followed by a couple of two-point field goals by Schluter, including a tip-in via offensive rebound.
“They just went on a run, and we just couldn’t respond,” Vogel said. “That’s where we’ve really got to learn as a team to buckle down and come back. If they get a score, we’ve got to come back and match them even though it may take some time to work our offense. If they come down and they make a turnover, we’ve got to make sure we take advantage of it and convert. We had some silly possessions there where they jumped some passing lanes and instead of reading the play, we just threw it and just assumed (it would work), and they were off to the races the other way.
“There were some times there where we were very lackadaisical in our defense in terms of making them earn everything that they got. We gave them some quick runouts. They had more energy in their step, and it’s something we’ve got to make sure we continue to focus on and get better.”
The Panthers (4-2) suffered a scoring drought to start the third quarter. Weber made a field goal with 4:45 left in the quarter to cut SJ-O’s lead to 49-26.
“St. Joe’s always going to be fundamentally sound defensively, and you’ve just got to make sure that you’re very aggressive against it and you work hard against,” Vogel said. “I thought there were times where we forced the issue and we weren’t very patient, and we just kind of let them take us out of our offensive flow a little bit.”
Weber scored seven of his eight points in the third quarter. Schluter scored 11 points in the third quarter en route to a game-high 24 points.
“I thought Brent really established an inside presence for us, and that was big. I thought he established a really good presence in the spot,” SJ-O head coach Brian Brooks said. “I thought our guards did a very good job of getting him the basketball in places where he could score, and he finished well tonight.”
PBL went into the final quarter trailing 62-35, enough of a deficit for Vogel to decide to let starters such as Schrodt and Weber rest on the bench.
“We took our guys out of there in the fourth quarter,” Vogel said. “We’ve got to make sure it’s a learning opportunity for some other guys, too. There’s no sense in taking a chance of somebody getting injured on something like that. They basically put the game away, and we just wanted to make sure we get some other guys some chances to play.
“We rushed. We pressed things. We overdribbled at times and did some other things. You just can’t do that against a team like St. Joe, especially with their depth. They’ve got guys that come off the bench. They’re probably eight or nine deep, whereas we’re not quite that deep. They’ve also got some good size. They just kind of wore us out. They were just more aggressive with stuff. Drew, in the second half, didn’t score much, but he didn’t play a whole quarter.”
Jeremy Walder scored four points in the fourth quarter to lead PBL. He would finish the game with five points.
Rubarts and Jay Eshleman each drained a 3-pointer. Rubarts had seven points while Eshleman scored five points.
Axl Denault added four points while Parker Young contributed two points.
For St. Joseph-Ogden, Patton and Dalton Walsh each had 10 points. Aarong Woller had eight points while Corbin Hesterberg added seven points.
“It was big getting Chase going,” Brooks said. “Walsh can put points up for us off the bench, and I thought we put him in good spots to get him good looks for the 3-pointer.”
Acklin finished the game with five points while Connor Janes, Nate Michael and Tyler Harms each added two points. Brady DePratt and Kyle Smith each contributed one point.
HOOPESTON – The Panthers left Hoopeston Area with a 58-42 non-conference victory Tuesday, Nov. 27.
Led by six points from Drew Schrodt and two 3-pointers from Jay Eshleman, PBL came out of the gate with a 16-5 first quarter. Tyler Rubarts added four points to PBL’s scoring efforts in the opening quarter.
The Panthers outscored the Cornjerkers in each quarter. In the second quarter, they gained a 10-9 advantage as Schrodt scored three points and Eshleman, Rubarts and Jeremy Walder each tallied two points and Axl added another via free throw to give PBL a 24-14 lead at halftime.
After going scoreless in the first half, Weston Weber produced four points in the third quarter. Denault was PBL’s leading scorer in the third quarter with five points while Eshleman and Schrodt added two points as the Panthers took a 37-25
The fourth quarter belonged to Weber, as he scored 14 of his team-high 18 points in that period. Rubarts and Denault each scored two points in the final quarter while Schrodt made a free throw.
Schrodt and Eshleman each joined Weber in the double-digit scoring club. Schrodt had 12 points while Eshleman scored 10 points.
Rubarts and Denault each fell a field goal short of double figures with eight points. Walder contributed two points.
For Hoopeston-Area, Mason Layden led the scoring effort with 20 points. Daniel Lawson also scored in double figures with 11 points.
Brennan Crose and Nick Papanek added nine and two points, respectively.
The Panthers hosted Clifton Central Tuesday. They will participate in the Leader Classic at St. Joseph, starting with a 6 p.m. game Thursday, Dec. 13, against Fisher.
“We’ve got to make sure we worry about taking care of things to get better,” Vogel said. “We’ve got to worry about making sure we bounce back and play against Clifton Tuesday and see how we respond. It’ll be interesting to see how we do.”
Friday’s game could be a preview of a Dec. 21 matchup in the Leader Classic and beyond. Brooks said he would not be surprised to see a more competitive game if it does happen.
“They’re a good ballclub,” Brooks said. “I know they didn’t play as well as they’re capable of. We’ve seen them play already once this year. They’ve got a really nice ballclub. They shoot it well. They play extremely hard. They’re very scrappy defensively. I’m sure, at some point, we may see them again, whether it be in the Leader Classic or the SVC Tournament or we could both be in the same regional down the road. You’ve got a lot of juniors playing there, and that’ll be a whole different team if they keep progressing.”
The PBL junior varsity suffered its first loss of the season Friday, falling to St. Joseph-Ogden 52-49 Friday.
The Panthers (4-1) rallied from a 39-27 third-quarter deficit. Nick Porter, who finished the game with 10 points, drained a 3-pointer to pull PBL within two at 49-47 with 11.2 seconds remaining.
Hunter Weber missed a buzzer-beating halfcourt heave in the final seconds.
Talon Yaden finished the game with a team-high 16 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. Johnny Walder scored in double figures as well with 10 points.
Austin Coe scored six points. Weber, Parker Young and Tal Harms each added two points while Corbin Riecks contributed one point.