By KEITH SPARKS
The Panthers kept rolling through their district opponents, beating Salado on Tuesday by a final score of 81-37, and beating Taylor 85-63 after being down by 16 in the first half.
Head Coach Barry Boren said the story of the game against Salado on Tuesday was simple: The Panthers shot the lights out.
“We hit 12 threes,” Boren said. “Carson (Perkins) hit four and Parker (McCurdy) hit five. Neil (Stephens) only scored four points, so we did it really without him doing a whole lot.
The Panthers stepped on the gas from the get-go, beating Salado 13-6 in the first quarter and 23-12 in the second to take a 36-18 lead at halftime.
The second half was more of the same, as Liberty Hill outscored Salado 41-19. Threes rained from all over, as Perkins hit four, McCurdy hit five, Bryce Truslow hit one, David Basalla hit one, and Riley LaDuque hit one.
Perkins finished with a game-high 22, McCurdy added 17, and Truslow added 13.
Against Taylor on Friday, the Panthers started out much slower than they did on Tuesday, which led to a 16-point deficit in the second quarter against the Ducks. According to Boren, a combination of his team doing what they’ve been coached to do and the Ducks coming back down to Earth allowed the Panthers to run away with it in the fourth quarter, eventually leading to a 22-point blowout victory over Taylor.
“They’re really athletic, they play really hard, but they don’t play very smart,” Boren said of the Ducks. “They came out and hit a bunch of threes. We weren’t patient, offensively, so we didn’t move the ball. Finally, in the third quarter, we started doing what we’re supposed to do. In the fourth quarter, they woke up, and the shots they were hitting earlier, they started missing.”
After going into halftime down by four behind a late second-quarter run, the Panthers won the third quarter 14-9, and absolutely took off in the fourth, winning the final quarter 32-11 behind 12 fourth-quarter points from Stephens.
Stephens finished the game with a game-high 27 points, followed by 15 from Perkins, 14 from McCurdy, and 8 from LaDuque.
After a roller-coaster start to the season, the Panthers have turned it up a notch in district play, going 8-0 so far to hold sole possession of first place. Boren attributed their recent success to some defensive changes.
“We made a couple of defensive changes,” Boren said. “We’re doing some things a little different, defensively. We’re pressuring a little more in the halfcourt than we were, so not only are we turning people over in our fullcourt defense, but we’ve started turning them over in the halfcourt.”
Boren also noted a lineup change, as former backup point guard Basalla is now playing alongside the starters in a three-guard lineup, which he said has allowed them to take better care of the basketball, overall.
With only four games left before the playoffs begin, Liberty Hill will host Llano at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, followed by a game in Lampasas at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 6.