Runnin’ Panthers turn to stifling defense to earn trip to Regional

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

BUDA — It is never good for a basketball scoring line to show only two points scored in the second quarter, but that offensive blip on the Panthers’ week of playoff success only serves to highlight their defensive dominance across a pair of wins.

Five days after beating Stafford to advance, the Panthers used a fast start and harassing defense throughout to post a 25-point win over Boerne, 63-38.

“I was really concerned about the game because they are really well coached and their team executes in tight situations so I was concerned because they have really good shooters,” said Head Coach Barry Boren. “What I hadn’t seen was them against pressure, so from the get-go one of our objectives was to put pressure on them.”

Everything fell into place early as Parker McCurdy grabbed a steam near mid-court on the first possession for an easy layup; then following another turnover Kaleb Bannon drained a three from the corner. Carson Perkins hit a three of his own after a third turnover against the Panther press and the lead was quickly 8-0.

Boerne didn’t attempt a field goal until the 5:50 mark of the first quarter and didn’t score on a field goal until midway through the quarter, already in a double-digit deficit.

For Liberty Hill the offense was clicking with four threes in the quarter, but it was the eight forced turnovers on defense and the pressure that led to a 16-point advantage after one quarter.

“We jumped out early, but in the second quarter they adjusted, we got a little bit complacent, and they made a run,” Boren said. “Coming out in the second half I thought we made the adjustment again. We changed our press when we came back out”

The defense never changed, but the offense went cold with the only bucket coming midway through the quarter when Cade Cole scored underneath on an assist from McCurdy. Boerne only scored a pair of field goals and hit six free throws to close the gap at the half to 25-17.

The Panthers were able to increase the lead slightly in the early-going of the third quarter, but Boerne stayed close, hitting a three with just under two minutes left to help shrink a 14-point Liberty Hill lead back to nine and stir the crowd.

But the pressure was beginning to take its toll, not only forcing Boerne to work hard for every shot, but wearing the Greyhounds down, especially in what proved to be a decisive six-point run to close out the third quarter and increase the lead to 15.

“One of the keys to victory is I said we have to play every second,” Boren said. “You have to take advantage of those opportunities that come your way and our kids were very opportunistic.”

With just over a minute left in the third, Jareck Naylor scored, then a quick Boerne turnover turned into two points for McCurdy on an assist from Bannon. As the quarter ended, Bannon drained a jumper and the lead was suddenly 15 heading into the fourth.

With a big lead, Boren emphasized getting the ball to the basket and being patient on offense.

“We wanted our shots going toward the basket,” Boren said. “Sometimes shooting threes is like fools gold. You hit a few early, you are going to still be open, but you may not still hit them. I told them to work the ball and go toward the basket.”

Bannon scored the first six points of the quarter for the Panthers, and Liberty Hill went to work pushing the ball inside, watching for the right opening.

Liberty Hill forced 19 turnovers in the game, and finished with a three-rebound advantage on the boards.

Offensively, McCurdy and Bannon led the way with 18 points each. Naylor was the third Panther in double figures with 16, followed by Cole with six and Perkins with five.

Despite finishing with only five points, Boren said Perkins made a huge impact on the game, drawing the bulk of the Boerne defensive focus.

Stopping Stafford
The first half was a struggle for control between Liberty Hill and Stafford in their Area-Round playoff matchup Feb. 21, with both teams trying to dictate the pace of play.

Stafford earned the early advantage in that struggle, but by early in the second half the Panthers’ ability to adjust paid off, leading to a 63-53 win.

“We had a bad second quarter, so we were down five going into the locker room,” Boren said. “The pace of the game was in favor of them. They like the game in the forties and we like the game in the seventies.”

Trailing at the half, Boren went to work on defensive adjustments, calling on his team to step out of the normal Panther style of play.

“We made an adjustment in our full-court defense and an adjustment in our half-court defense and more than anything it was just to establish more tempo,” he said. “They were just killing us on the boards, so we were shooting threes and missing and it was just back on defense. Even though they didn’t shoot well they were getting the ball so deep into our defense that they’d shoot and miss then rebound it and put it back.”

Heading into the second half, Boren reminded his squad what a win and a loss meant at this point of the season.

“I told them it’s a two-possession game and you have a whole half to make that up, but guys, you need to play with a little sense of urgency because this is it, this is your last game unless you win,” he said. “We came out of the half and immediately went on a 7-0 run and took the lead and then we never relinquished the lead from there on out.”

Liberty Hill had been 0-for-7 from three-point range in the second quarter, but heading into the third, the Panthers adjusted their offensive approach along with their defense.

Carson Perkins was that offensive spark, scoring six in the quarter taking the ball to the basket.

“Whereas he had not been able to hit threes, he started taking the ball to the basket, and Jareck Naylor the same thing,” Boren said. “When those two guys started taking the ball to the basket we hit some timely threes.”

Perkins led all scorers with 20 points, 13 of those coming in the second half. He was 7-of-8 from the line, hitting all seven free throws attempted in the final quarter. McCurdy scored 12, hitting three from beyond the arc. Naylor and Kaleb Bannon each finished with 10, with 16 of their combined 20 coming in the second half.

Others on the scoreboard were Walker Baty (7) and Cade Cole (4).

The win was the 30th of the season for the Panthers (30-6), notching another season milestone as they move closer to the state tournament.

Boren said the half-court defense he put in after the half was one the team had only run once or twice all year, and his team’s ability to execute it so well is a sign of something special.

“It was a really good effort by our kids and a tribute to them because they made the adjustments and executed what we talked about doing,” he said. “The fact that they could remember their assignments and what they could do was just phenomenal. I said, to me that’s one of the marks of a good team is that you can make an in-game adjustment and carry that out.”

Liberty Hill will play the winner of Friday’s matchup between Boerne and Fulshear. Watch the Independent’s Facebook page for details on the opponent, time and location for the next round.

Next stop Kingsville
The win Tuesday over Boerne punched the Panthers’ ticket to the Regional Tournament this weekend in Kingsville.

It is a familiar playoff place to be, and something Boren said is really the expectation for his team.

“We won our district last year, we went to the regional tournament in Region 3, so I can say this now, anything less than this would have been a huge disappointment,” Boren said. “Our team is different, but our team is worthy to be where they are. We’re not satisfied with just going to the regional tournament, we want to go there and compete.”

Liberty Hill (31-6) plays West Oso (29-8) at 6 p.m. Friday. Both teams have been able to put up points this year, with Liberty Hill averaging 71 and West Oso averaging 67. Through the playoffs, the Bears have averaged 78 points in wins over La Feria, La Vernia and King high schools.

The Panthers are allowing 54 points per game and the Bears are surrendering 52.

If Liberty Hill wins Friday, the Panthers will play the winner of the Navasota and Sinton match up on Saturday. Playing on back-to-back days poses a challenge for the Panthers who like to play pressure defense, but Boren hopes that early-season preparations have his team ready.

“That’s going to be a problem for us,” Boren said. “But that’s why you play those tournaments way back in December so they’ve been there before and they’ve had to play six games in three days. This is nothing like that was.”

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