St. Mary Central Catholic's win on Friday night against Oak Harbor, a 54-43 win on the road, didn’t exactly resemble the first four games the Panthers played.
But they did enough to keep their distance from the Rockets — and run their win streak to five straight to start this season.
The Panthers (5-0, 3-0 Sandusky Bay Conference) won their first five games by an average 30.2 points. They had to work much harder late in Friday’s game, ahead by just six points. But they got the job done by holding Oak Harbor to just five points in the fourth quarter.
“The kids have worked hard for it, and tonight was a hard-fought game,” SMCC head coach Lyle Falknor said. “We need those games to make us grow a little bit. It was kind of a Christmas break game. I think both teams were a little lethargic getting up and down the floor, but it’s nice to get the win.”
Sophomore Trenton Zimmerman scored 10 of his game-high 19 points in the opening quarter, then finished with eight more in the fourth for SMCC. Melvin Jackson added 15 for the Panthers, and Denarius Harris scored 11 more — all in the second and third quarters.
“(Zimmerman’s) teammates did a great job taking advantage of what they gave us,” Falknor said. “Trenton was a guy in position to catch the ball and finish, and he did a great job getting in position. But there’s a lot of good passing into him from several different guys.”
For the Rockets (2-6, 0-5 SBC), who committed 17 turnovers to SMCC’s 19, it’s the sixth loss in seven games this winter. Four of those losses have been by eight or fewer points.
“We had some opportunities, even at the end of the game there,” Oak Harbor coach Eric Sweet said. “We had three great looks at 3s, and we had two timeouts, but you’ve got to make shots.
“We had a lot of opportunities and my boys once again played really hard — that’s something we pride ourself on — but at the end of the night you need to put the ball in the hole when it counts.”
Only one player, senior Josh Sarahman, scored in double figures for Oak Harbor. Sarahman went for 13 points and made three 3-pointers.
“He played great. He led us scoring and probably rebounding. He played phenomenal,” Sweet said.
The matchup put the SBC's first and last scoring offenses on the same floor — the Panthers averaged a league-best 79.0 points per game before Friday, and the Rockets a league-lowest 45.3.
It didn't look that way early, with the Rockets ahead 12-8 midway through the first quarter with Sarahman scoring 7. But the Panthers closed with a 10-3 run to take a slim 18-15 lead.
SMCC built its double-digit lead in the second quarter by knocking down numerous free-throw opportunities, and holding Oak Harbor to just seven points on three field goals. Harris scored eight points and was 6 of 6 at the foul line during that time, and his two foul shots with just more than a minute before the half gave SMCC an 11-point lead (31-20) it eventually took into the locker room at halftime.
The lead swelled to 16 points in the third quarter as Lucas Will sank a pull-up 3-pointer, putting the Panthers ahead 41-24. Rather than fold, the Rockets dug in and began a 14-4 run — keyed by a pair of 3-pointers from Sarahman from the wing that both bounced around the rim before falling through — that brought them back to within single digits.
Asked how his team was able to stay in the game, Sweet said it was “how hard they play (on defense and) how much we scrap. With that 54, they only made one jumper. Everything was inside the paint or at the foul line, so I think we could have played even better defensively. But give them credit because they’re a strong team and they get to the hole.”
Oak Harbor trailed by six points to start the fourth quarter (44-38), but between Zimmerman's offense in the paint and one field goal at the other end — and 16 in the games to SMCC’s 19 — the Rockets faded down the stretch. Tate Haar added 8 points and Deshawn Johnson 7 more for Oak Harbor, which plays again tonight at Woodmore. SMCC is on the road again, visiting Mansfield St. Peter.
“With them coming at us late in the fourth quarter I thought we handled the ball better — we missed some free throws and we have to do a better job knocking free throws down — but in the overall picture we were doing what we needed to put the game away,” Falknor said.