But it certainly doesn’t feel that way.
“I don’t think you ever look at it as just another game. It’s a big rivalry when these two play, always some outside noise going on around it,” St. Mary Central Catholic coach Lyle Falknor said of Friday’s Sandusky Bay Conference showdown at Perkins.
There is much more than typical outside noise.
The Panthers (8-0, 4-0) — ranked No. 4 in the Division IV Associated Press state poll — will make the three-mile trip across town to face the Pirates (7-2, 6-0). While SMCC is off to its best start in years, Perkins is looking for a third straight SBC title and a third straight regional appearance.
"It’s another game in the conference at our place to take care of our home court, but obviously the kids know each other,” Perkins coach Scott McVeigh said. “It’s the SMCC-Perkins rivalry across town, so that always adds incentive. It just becomes that much bigger.
“I’m sure Lyle doesn’t have to motivate his kids to play hard, and I won’t have to with my kids either” he added.
SMCC has won its eight games by 10 points or more, and enters the game averaging 73.4 points per game. The Panthers are allowing 47.5 points per game, which is spearheaded by an uptempo offense and a full-court pressure defense.
“They are off to a great start, and are a dangerous team,” McVeigh said of the Panthers. “I thought they had a nice team last year, and even go back two years ago when they went toe-to-toe for two overtimes with Colonel Crawford in a district championship (79-78 loss in Div. IV).
“Now you add another year to them maturity-wise, along with good athleticism and quickness and you have a dangerous team,” he added. “It looks like they are sharing the ball and playing good defense. If you can do that with good talent, it’s just a dangerous team” Meanwhile, the Pirates enter the game averaging 60.5 points per game while allowing 51.7 points defensively. While Perkins has two losses, they’ve come to two premier programs at Norwalk (9-0, No. 6 Div. II) and vs. Perrysburg (9-0, No. 10 Div. I).
“(Nic) Williams is obviously their go-to-guy, and he really makes things happen for them when they need it,” Falknor said of the Pirates. “But they are solid. They have good size and are strong kids inside. They just do a lot of nice things as a team, and so you can’t spend all the energy on one guy. If you do that, you’ll be disappointed in the end”
Williams, the two-time SBC Outstanding Performer, enters the game averaging 22.4 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Kyle Lewis adds 9.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, while Dale Irby brings 7.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and Chase Green is averaging 7.3 rebounds per game.
SMCC counters with Denarius Harris, also a four-year contributor like Williams, who averages 14.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
The Panthers also get 13.6 points, 4.6 rebounds per game from guard Melvin Jackson, as well as solid balance from 6-foot-4 Trenton Zimmerman (11.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg). Justin Fraser adds 9.8 points per game, while Lucas Will is averaging 4.9 assists per game.
“The biggest thing for anyone who plays them is to value the ball,” McVeigh said of facing the Panthers full-court pressure. “We have to take care of it, because there are a lot of opportunities to score in that style of play, so we have to make the most of every possession we have.
“But it boils down to fundamentals, getting to where we need to be and being able to finish,” he added. “If we do that, we should be fine. We know they will speed it up, but it’s not that we don’t like to run with the ball, we definitely can. But our best offense for us is getting stops time after time on defense”
Falknor sees a game that will come down to his team’s ability to control the glass.
“I know we’ll have to box out and rebound well,” he said. “We need to limit their second-chance shots, and of course take care of the basketball”
Falknor said his team is excited for the first big test of the season.
“It’s the kind of game that players should look forward to,” he said. “If you are a competitor, you want to play in a loud venue with two good teams. Perkins is a great team, they have two losses to two outstanding teams and we know how tough of a challenge they present. I would hope our guys are looking forward and are excited about it”
Meanwhile, McVeigh is pleased with his team through nine games.
“I do like our chemistry and how well we play together, especially with our top seven,” he said. “This is a lot different team than the past three years. I think against Clyde (61-54 win Saturday) we put our best 32 minutes and our best four quarters together and it showed. I think we’re more of an inside-out team than a lot of us envisioned.
“The guys have done a great job playing together on both ends of the floor, sharing the ball on offense and helping on defense,” McVeigh added. “We’ve got a nice mix of slashers and shooters. I like our team and where we are at this point”
Falknor said he thought his team was capable of the hot start to the season.
“Obviously we had some games moved, and a few of our better opponents were moved back, so it made for a different schedule to start out,” he said. “But yeah, I thought we could be in this position. We’re still just kind of growing into a team.
“This has been a totally different style of basketball than those guys are used to,” he added. “They are having fun with it. I want these guys to walk out of SMCC for a love of the game. That’s what it’s about and what we’re trying to do”