Panthers overpower Llano’s Yellowjackets, 82-36

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Neil Stephens (#34) goes up for a big rebound over two Llano defenders. The win over the Yellowjackets gives them a 13-10 overall record and an undefeated 3-0 district record. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Neil Stephens (#34) goes up for a big rebound over two Llano defenders. The win over the Yellowjackets gives them a 13-10 overall record and an undefeated 3-0 district record. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

The Panthers simply overpowered the undersized Llano Yellowjackets on Tuesday en route to their third district win in a row to begin district play with an undefeated 3-0 record.

From the time the two teams stepped foot in the gym, it was clear the Panthers had the advantage physically. Liberty Hill was taller, stronger, faster, and ultimately more prepared to play.

The Panthers started the game on a 7-2 run, thanks to fantastic ball movement from everybody on the floor. Multiple first-quarter possessions for the Panthers consisted of seven or more passes before the ball was shot. The Panthers got the ball inside, back outside, skipped it across the court, and found open teammates in the paint by picking apart Llano’s zone defense for easy buckets.

Picking apart the zone defense with deliberate passing was something the Panthers worked on in a successful Saturday practice, after struggling to do so against Salado’s zone on Friday, according to Head Coach Barry Boren.

“The other night, playing against Salado’s zone, we tried to dribble,” Boren said. “We had a really good practice Saturday, after our Salado game, and what came out of it was, I went old school on ‘em. I put cones on the floor, and we simulated what a zone was and where we were supposed to be. Tonight, we just did what we did at our Saturday practice. Our kids did such a good job.”

Senior Josh Sudekum feasted from the short corner, as freshman point guard Carson Perkins continued to find him on the baseline. On two possessions in a row, Perkins hit Sudekum in the paint for layups with flashy no-look passes that made the Panther crowd gasp in unison. Sudekum finished with a team-high 20 points.

The Panthers’ full-court press proved to be too much for Llano to handle in the backcourt, forcing turnover after turnover for layup after layup in the first half. The Panthers went on a 35-9 run to end the first half, getting out to a 44-15 halftime lead.

One perk to the Panthers’ huge lead that may have gone unnoticed by those in the stands was the fact that the coaching staff was able to experiment with some offensive sets that they haven’t had much of an opportunity to run so far this season, according to Coach Boren.

“We did so many different things,” Boren said. “We really were trying to do a lot of stuff that we’ve kind of been experimenting with. Some of it looked good, some of it didn’t, but this was a good game to do it. We could have just kept doing the same things, but I don’t know that we could have won any more convincingly. We needed a game like this where we could play everybody and we could try some stuff.”

The second half brought more of the same out of the Panthers, who had their highest scoring quarter of the game in the third, during which they outscored Llano 25-8 behind two threes from Riley LaDuque. LaDuque finished the game with 15 points.

The Panthers’ lead ballooned to as many as 50 as they took a 73-23 lead with just over six minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, though the Yellowjackets refused to quit, continuing to play with lots of energy up to the final buzzer. The Panthers won by a final score of 82-36.

“That’s probably about as complete a win as we could have,” Boren said. “The most important game is the one you’ve got right now. We couldn’t afford to look ahead to Lampasas. We wanted to play well tonight to give us some momentum going into Lampasas.”

Last Friday, the Panthers played their second district game of the season in Salado, winning in a much lower scoring 46-30 contest to go 2-0 in district play. The Panthers were led by 15 points from Sudekum and 13 from senior center Zach Lord.

This Friday, the Panthers will play Lampasas, also undefeated in District play, who beat Burnet by just one point on Tuesday night. It should be an exciting game, as Liberty Hill, Lampasas and Burnet look to be among the favorites to win the district championship in 2017.

The Panthers’ game against the Lampasas Badgers will take place at Lampasas High School at 8 p.m. Friday.

Sports@LHIndependent.com

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