Runnin’ Panthers upset La Vernia, 88-73

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Senior Clayton Kuhlmann (#12) gets up and finishes strong in the Panthers’ 88-73 win over La Vernia. Kuhlmann finished the game with 20 points. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Senior Clayton Kuhlmann (#12) gets up and finishes strong in the Panthers’ 88-73 win over La Vernia. Kuhlmann finished the game with 20 points. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

The Panthers beat La Vernia in a high-scoring affair on Friday, contrary to last year’s matchup that saw each team score less than half of what they did last week.

Liberty Hill Head Coach Barry Boren gave credit to both teams’ offenses, but also recognized that less-than-stellar defense on both ends may have had something to do with it.

“We played them in bi-district and won 37-31,” Boren said. “We nearly tripled our scores. I’d like to think that some of that was good offense. I think we were playing hard, but our defense is not as good as it needs to be.”

The Panthers were able to jump out to a 16-9 lead in the first quarter, but a number of turnovers turned into easy buckets for La Vernia on the other end. At the end of the first quarter, the game was tied 21-21.

Each time the Panthers looked like they might pull away, La Vernia would hit a well-timed three to keep them in the game. In fact, they hit 11 threes as a team, which equaled close to half of their total points. Liberty Hill hit only two from deep.

After fouling out of the previous game, Panther center Zach Lord found himself in foul trouble yet again on Friday. He was forced to sit during the first quarter after picking up two quick fouls, and was forced to sit again after picking up his third foul in the second quarter.

Liberty Hill turned it up defensively in the second quarter, applying full-court pressure to the La Vernia guards, who struggled to handle the press, turning the ball over on multiple occasions and allowing Liberty Hill to capitalize on wide-open layups. At the end of the first half, the Panthers held a 49-37 lead, and both teams had already eclipsed their point totals from last year’s game.

Lord again found himself in foul trouble early in the third quarter, picking up his fourth foul with 5:21 to play in the quarter. Despite foul trouble, Lord was able to make an impact offensively, leading the Panthers with 22 points, 10 of which he scored in the fourth quarter. He finished 14-14 at the free throw line.

La Vernia was able to claw their way back into the game in the third quarter, hitting deep three after deep three to bring the score to 57-56 in favor of the Panthers going into the fourth quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, La Vernia was able to take the lead after a steal led to a wide-open layup to give the Bears a 57-56 lead. The Panthers were finally able to get separation, thanks in large part to great free throw shooting as they found themselves in the bonus early on. Coach Boren also credited his team’s defensive focus as the game neared its end.

“I think we finally made some defensive plays,” Boren said. “We got a couple steals. We got a key rebound. We were 19-21 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. We hit free throws. Zach was 14 for 14, which is phenomenal.”

The Panthers went on an 8-0 run, sparked by a steal and four points in a row from Clayton Kuhlmann. The difference for the Panthers on Friday was undoubtedly at the free throw line, where they finished 32 of 36 as a team. Taking advantage of opportunities at the free throw line has been a major focus during practice this season, according to Coach Boren.

“I think we’ve led the state in free throw shooting maybe three or four times,” Boren said. “We’ve always shot free throws well, but the last couple years we haven’t shot free throws as well as we want to. I kind of got mad at them, so we’ve plugged a running deal into it. We have a segment where there’s that much time on the clock. If you miss a free throw, you’re running three down and backs. You’re just running all the time, so you make free throws so you don’t have to run.”

La Vernia began to intentionally foul in an attempt to extend the game, but the Panthers’ efficient free throw shooting put the game out of reach. In a game that was close throughout, Liberty Hill found themselves on the better end of an 88-73 ballgame to bring their record to 1-1 on the season. Lord finished with 22 points, Kuhlmann finished with 20, and Josh Sudekum finished with 15.

The Panthers will play China Spring at home on Tuesday at 8 p.m., followed by Hyde Park at home next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., after taking Friday off due to Thanksgiving.

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