Runnin’ Panthers ride hot shooting into district play

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By Keith Sparks

As head basketball coach at Liberty Hill High School since 2005, Barry Boren has coached a lot of different teams, but the 2018-2019 Runnin’ Panthers are among the best shooting teams he’s ever coached.

This isn’t the first time Boren has had a great three-point shooting team, but it’s a noticeable difference from the 2014, 2015, and 2016 teams that featured 6’9” center Zach Lord, who’s now playing at Dallas Baptist. With Lord on the roster, it would’ve been foolish not to force feed him the ball in the paint, but Boren said those teams were the outliers, not this one.

“Really and truly, I’d rather us play the way we’re playing now,” Boren said. “I really had to adjust more when we had Zach. We played differently then, and if we had the outside game to go with his inside game, we probably would have been better than we were.”

The Panthers have four rotational players shooting greater than 30 percent from three-point range so far this season, with guards Carson Perkins and Parker McCurdy getting the vast majority of those looks from outside.

“When we’re shooting it well, we’re pretty good,” Boren said. “As a team, we’re hitting threes at close to 40 percent, which is nuts.”

Perkins, Liberty Hill’s starting point guard, is leading the Panthers from three-point range, hitting them at 41 percent, followed by McCurdy, the starting shooting guard, at 38 percent. Role players Kaleb Bannon (33 percent) and Kaden Knight (34 percent) are shooting lights-out, as well. Starting forward Jareck Naylor is a fairly reliable three-point shooting threat, too, at just under 30 percent.

According to Boren, having a handful of players on the court at all times that are capable of knocking down the three opens up a lot of options for his offensive schemes.

“A lot of times, we’ll run a set play and it’ll have different options out of it,” Boren said. “You don’t run a play just to get one guy a shot. You run a play and you get shots out of that for multiple people. A lot of times, when we’re polishing stuff, I’ll say, ‘Run it again, but this time do something different.’”

Having that many capable shooters on the floor also gives the Panthers a safety net when a play breaks down, giving them the option of dishing it out to the perimeter when they’re in trouble.

“The other thing is when plays break down, if someone overplays, for instance, these guys are sharp enough to know how to compensate,” Boren said. “They’ll back cut or they’ll pin down and set somebody up for a flare over the top. We might be in a set, but they’re just taking what the defense will give them.”

The Panthers’ hot shooting isn’t by accident, either, as Boren and his coaching staff have focused heavily on the smaller details involved in shooting from long range, and Boren said his team has taken it to heart.

“I told them in Fort Worth, I said ‘I watch the way you guys run down the court, I watch the way you move your feet to set up to shoot, I watch the way you bring your hands into the shooting motion,’” Boren said. “Most people wouldn’t pay any attention to that, but it really just goes into the way they’ve all been taught to play. They don’t just practice like that when they’re around me, either, because you’ll notice it if you watch them in open gym. That’s just the way they play. I think that translates to why they can do it in the game.”

This style of offense has worked for the Panthers so far, and Boren said he thinks the kids enjoy it. Being able to run the floor quickly and find shooters is a fun style of play, and having shooters on the perimeter opens up the paint for the big guys, as well, so nobody gets left out of the action.

“It’s a different way of playing, and I think the kids enjoy it,” Boren said. “It’s a faster pace, there’s a lot of shots off the drive, people will drive and kick it out. There’s a lot of times where we collapse the defense and throw it out the back end.”

The Panthers’ 19-5 record speaks for itself. If they can continue to shoot the ball the way they have been, they’ll be a hard team to stop.

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