By KEITH SPARKS
In their season opener on Tuesday, the Panther basketball team fell to the Conference 5A Austin High Maroons by a final score of 57-51.
The Panthers were led in the loss by sophomore point guard Carson Perkins, who finished with 18 points on six made three-pointers. Senior Bryce Truslow finished with 11, and senior Neil Stephens added 10.
Despite the loss, Liberty Hill Head Coach Barry Boren was encouraged by his team’s play and the leadership his seniors showed.
“Carson hit six threes, Neil and Bryce both had double figures, so I wasn’t discouraged by it at all,” Boren said. “I was encouraged.”
For a team that presses its opponent full-court for the entirety of the game, having only seven active players can be a death sentence. The Panthers will have 10 on the varsity roster once football is over, but were stuck with only seven on Tuesday as Ali Nourian was out with a virus.
“In our system, it’s really hard to play with less than eight players,” Boren said. “Nourian is sick. We’re fine if we can play with eight, but Ali has a virus that’s highly contagious, and it’s not something you can just fight through, so he was out. With only seven guys, it’s tough to play the way we play.”
Missed free throws by some of the Panthers’ best shooters set a poor tone after halftime, Boren said, leading to a cold spell as the Panthers scored only eight points as a team in the third quarter. After a cold start to the second half, the Panthers found themselves down 15 heading into the final quarter.
“It was because we couldn’t hit shots,” Boren said. “We tried to run our stuff. We were getting our guys open, but we couldn’t hit a shot.”
While the Panthers struggled to find their shot, the Maroons dropped back in a 2-3 zone, forcing the Panthers to shoot the ball even more.
“For some crazy reason, they went to a 2-3 zone, which meant us having to shoot the ball was even more of a premium,” Boren said. “We’re down 15 going into the fourth quarter, and they get another technical, and Carson misses two free throws. That’s four free throws from two really good shooters, and still our guys were able to somehow keep fighting back.”
In the fourth quarter, Boren moved Perkins to the wing in order to get him more open jump shots, and it worked almost to perfection. The Panthers’ ability to finally hit shots, combined with their defensive efforts, gave them a chance to come back down the stretch.
“I moved Carson to the wing, and he started hitting shots, and that’s what got us going in the fourth quarter,” Boren said. “Then they started trying to hold the ball and spread it a little bit, but they didn’t do a very good job, and we started trapping and really did a good job on the boards.”
Behind hot shooting from Perkins, Liberty Hill battled back to within four points late in the fourth, but it was too little too late, and the Panthers were forced to intentionally foul to no avail as the Maroons came away with the win.
At 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18, the Panthers were scheduled to play their second game of the season against Gonzales at Gonzales High School, but the game has been cancelled. Their first home game of the season will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 20, against Dominic Salvio, followed by a game at China Spring on Tuesday.