Because of scheduling, the St. Mary Central Catholic boys basketball team spent extra time beating up on each other.
But finally with four games under their collective belts, the Panthers have been able to inflict damage to the opposition, including Saturday night's 92-62 win over Monroeville at “The Den.”
The Panthers are averaging 79 points per game on the young season, and following veteran coach Lyle Falknor's plan of pressure defense. In Saturday's game, the Panthers were able to consistently pressure the Eagles (2-4) into many early turnovers, which in turn led to easy transition baskets.
“That's our game,” Falknor said. “It's what we try and do every night. I thought the first three quarters we did a really nice job of that.”
Already up 17-6 midway through the first quarter, the Panthers showed their ability to score points in a hurry. After Monroeville's Brandon Hayes connected on a 3-pointer to make it a 17-9 deficit, the Panthers proceeded to score eight points in a 38-second span.
Brett St. Clair connected on a mid-range jumper, then Denarius Harris came through with two slashing baskets, followed by a steal and layup from Melvin Jackson made it a 25-9 advantage with 2:41 left in the opening quarter.
The second quarter was more of the same, with the Panthers putting up 24 points to the Eagles' 15 to take a 53-25 halftime lead. The Panthers again scored five quick points in the final 16 seconds of the half, as Justin Fraser hit a 3-pointer at the top of the key, and Harris had another steal and score inside with seven seconds left.
“We've been able to force a lot of turnovers and convert those into points,” Falknor said. “Our guards out front have just done a really nice job of deflecting the ball and finishing at the other end.”
Things spiraled further out of control in the third quarter, as the Panthers scored 28 points while limiting the Eagles to 10. The game ground to a halt and got chippy, as three technical foul calls were whistled on Monroeville in the third quarter alone.
Eagles coach Zac Reer declined to comment after the game.
With the Panthers leading 81-35 entering the final eight minutes, Falknor emptied his bench and both teams began subbing freely, with the Eagles holding a 27-11 scoring advantage in the final quarter.
Monroeville had four players in double figures, with Devon Wallace leading the way with 18 points. Glen Clark had 12, Hayes added 11 and Cage Roby scored 10.
Meanwhile, the Panthers had six players reach double figures, led by Trenton Zimmeran with a game-high 21 points.
“We're moving the ball really well, and like Coach Falknor says, just try to wear people out really,” Zimmerman said. “We're really trying to emphasis that this year.”
Jackson finished with 14 points for the Panthers, while Harris had 13, St. Clair added 12, and Lucas Will and Fraser each scored 10.
“We're off to a good start,” Harris said. “Coach is really trying to emphasize defense with us. That is the main thing, because we know the offense will come, and goes hand-in-hand with good defense.”
After the break for Christmas, the Panthers will visit Oak Harbor on Friday for a Sandusky Bay Conference game, then visit Mansfield St. Peter's on Saturday.
Monroeville will host New London in a Firelands Conference game Friday.
After losing some early season games to postponements from the football playoffs for some of the SMCC opponents, Falknor is happy to be playing anyone but themselves.
“It feels good to not just be beating on each other,” he said. “It's kind of nice to get a few games in here before another short break. The kids are working hard.”