Dan Eyrich, AP Sports
As the basketball Panthers enter their final week of the regular season the young group continues to work to improve. Their starting lineup for the vast majority of the season has consisted of one senior, three or four sophomores and most recently a freshman. The group is generally outsized and out muscled by their opponents which has led to some lopsided losses. But, despite that, they continue to play spirited games and battle to the final buzzer. Most recently going up against several of the best teams in the conference they have given up big leads early but have been able to make corrections and play their opponents evenly the remainder of the game. On Monday night the team traveled to Monmouth to take on the Titans and came up on the short end of the scoreboard again falling 58-51. The proof of their improvement showed in the contest as at one point they were behind by 21.
Things started out well for the Panthers as they played the Titans even for the first five minutes trailing 9-8. A three by Keegan Winckler put the Panthers up 11-10 but a reoccurring issue once again appeared as EP allowed their opponent to go on a run and put themselves in a hole. This time it was Monmouth-Roseville’s turn as they outscored the visitors 11-0 in the final few minutes of the first quarter to take a 21-11 lead after one quarter.
The second quarter was more of the same as multiple Panther turnovers led to several easy buckets for the Titans as they built a 17 point lead midway through the quarter. A pair of free throws from Jeremiah Kochevar finally moved the scoreboard for the Panthers to make it a 28-13 game. The teams traded threes in the final minute with the Titans getting a basket at the buzzer to take a 17 point advantage at the half.
The Titans would push the lead to 20 early in the third quarter before the Panthers began to turn things around. Having very little chance to get the ball inside EP had to depend on its outside shooting to get back in the game. Connor Keegan, who was held scoreless in the first half found the range as he hit back- to-back threes and combined with a three-point play by Kochevar, the Panthers cut the lead to 13. A pretty floater in the lane by Kochevar and a steal and run out by Keegan forced the Titans to take a timeout as their lead was cut to 11 with one minute left in the third. A flourish by the Titans pushed their lead back to 16 as the quarter came to a close.
M-R would open the fourth quarter with a three but the Panthers would then began a methodical run eating away at the 19 point Titan advantage. A three-pointer by Gus Schultz began an 11-0 run by the Panthers fueled by three point buckets by Kochevar, Keegan, and an impressive reverse layup by Winkler to cut the margin to seven with 3:12 left. The Titans responded with a pair of buckets to push the lead back to double digits before Evan Steimle’s third three of the night made it a 56-48 game with 1:22 remaining.
Another bucket by the Titans was followed by Conner Keegan’s fourth 3-pointer of the night to get the Panthers within seven again. Unfortunately, the Panthers had not committed any fouls in the quarter and simply did not have enough time to get the Titans to the foul line before the buzzer sounded.
The Panthers played in much better second half in every aspect of the game according to coach Ryan Winkler. “We got out rebounded 34 to 22 in the first half and gave up 9 offensive rebounds. That really hurt us in the first half but we challenge the guys in the locker room and they responded. In the second half they only outrebound us 9 to 7 and they only had two offensive boards.” The Panthers also cut down on their mistakes in the second half committing only 2 turnovers after accumulating 7 in the first half.
.Jeremiah Kochevar led all scorers with18, scoring 13 in the second half including a 4/4 night from the line. Connor Keegan had 14 with 4 threes all in the second half. Evan Steimle added 9 with 3 threes. The Panthers recorded 11 threes in the game, hitting 7 in the second half. Nico Avendano led M-R with 17.
The Panthers will wrap up their regular season with a trip to Morrison on Thursday and a chance for a season sweep of the Mustangs.
Winckler added, “Definitely proud of the guys! As tough as it’s been, they could’ve given up. We were down 21 at one point in the third quarter, came all the way back to get it to seven. Pretty gutsy effort for our guys.”
The F/S Panthers fell 45-27.