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Not in 35 Years Have Panthers Faced Bigger Odds
On paper, the Sectional 41 match-up between Knightstown and Shenandoah is about as fair as a hair duel between me and Don King.
Shenandoah is 17-3, has won 11 straight games, and is ranked 7th in the state in Class 2A. Knightstown is 1-20, has lost 10 straight games, and already has already lost to the Raiders by 18 points this season.
If the Panthers win, it would go down as the greatest tournament upset in the history of Knightstown basketball. This game might just be the biggest sectional mismatch since the 1972 Knightstown-New Castle battle, which had an historic impact on sectional tournaments state-wide.
Duane Queener, Knightstown’s coach in 1972 took a pretty good team to the tournament that season. The problem was, the Panthers drew the Trojans in the opening round of the sectional and New Castle was ranked number one in the state.
The Trojans were a formidable foe. Their front line of Kent Benson (6-11), Dave Billingsly (6-8) and Dennis Kinzer (6-5), with Terry Ross (6-9) coming off the bench, was bigger than that of the ABA champion Indiana Pacers. They created problems in every aspect of the game.
Knightstown had some pretty good athletes, including Mike Roland, one of the top ten players ever at KHS. But they stood absolutely no chance of winning that game.
Queener, who had his detractors and critics, silenced them by pulling out a bit of coaching genius and literally changing the way small schools approached insurmountable odds in the era before class basketball.
If New Castle didn’t have the ball, they couldn’t score.
Knightstown played a “slowdown game”, re-inventing the wheel when it came to working the ball for an open shot. Many times down the floor the Panthers ran off two or three minutes of clock until Roland was able to isolate a Trojan one-on-one.
Randy Jordan got a hot hand and hit several mid-range jumpers, and Knightstown’s strategy paid off. After one quarter New Castle led 8-7, and at halftime it was 17-13. The score was 27-25, New Castle, after three quarters. The game had been tied multiple times to that point.
The top-ranked team in the state that was used to beating the likes of Muncie Central by 16 points was on its heels and in a dogfight with a black cat. Their previous blowout victories over the Panthers weren’t going to be repeated.
The magic ran out during the late minutes of the game, when Knightstown no longer got the shots to fall and the Trojans went to sort of a box-in-one on Roland. New Castle pulled away for a 44-32 victory, escaping what would have been the biggest upset in the history of the New Castle sectional.
The 12-point loss was a moral victory for the small county school against the mighty green giants, who were considered the state’s number one team. And the game got the attention of the entire state.
The next morning, “New Castle Survives Slowdown Game” was the big headline in the Indianapolis Star.
It wasn’t the first time a slowdown game strategy had been used. But it was the first time it had been effective.
Small schools across the state took notice. Queener received telephone calls from coaches seeking advice on how to run the game plan. According to the Star, six more slowdown games occurred in sectional finals three days later. Only one – Knightstown’s – had been utilized in a preliminary round game.
On paper, this year’s Knightstown-Shenandoah battle is the biggest mismatch in the state, without a doubt. According to the Jeff Sagarin ratings system, Knightstown garners a rating of 44.05, while the Raiders are 79.33. Shenandoah is ranked number 69 in the entire state, while the Panthers are number 375.
Of the 98 teams in Class 2A, the Raiders are ranked number four. Knightstown is ranked number 97, ahead of only North Newton, a school probably named after a soft cookie.
So there you have it. The table is set for just another first round sectional mismatch, or potentially the greatest upset in the state this season.
The odds probably couldn’t be longer, making the outcome easy to predict.
But they’re going to play the game anyway and see what happens, which opens the door for anything to happen.
The “what if” factor means this game has the potential to be the most exciting one that Sectional 41 will offer.
That’s more than worth the trip to Alexandria.
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