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 Eastern Hancock Knew How to Close the Deal

March 5, 2008 - The biggest difference between the Eastern Hancock Royals and the Knightstown Panthers was fairly obvious by the end of the game. With six seniors all in at least their second year of varsity basketball, the Royals were a veteran team that knew how to close the deal.

The Panthers will have to wait at least one more year to call themselves the same thing.

The game was both a highlight reel and error-filled contest for the Panthers, who will return the starting five from this year’s sectional. Knightstown dominated the game in the first and third quarter, and looked lost for most of the other two quarters.

Knightstown went inside early and got four points apiece from Zach Apollos and Kelton Lane in the first quarter. Brice Biehl added three points in the first frame and the Panthers were up 13-7.

But Knightstown got nothing from its starters in the second quarter, and Eastern Hancock appeared to take control of the game. Back-to-back three-pointers by freshman Dustin Smith and senior Jensen Maroska, which was his only field goal of the game, tied the contest at 13-all.

Moments later, Zach Apollos and Seth Apollos both picked up their second fouls and the Royals couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity. The game nearly got out of hand and the Royals continued on a 16-3 run to take a 23-16 lead.

Knightstown got back into the game due to the efforts of senior Bryce Cole, who played the best six minutes of his career in the second quarter. Cole scored seven points in the frame, connecting on five-of-six free throws and hitting an 18-foot jumper that closed the gap to 23-21 at the half. Cole scored all seven of the Panther points during that 7-0 over the final five minutes of quarter. The Panthers had missed nine straight shots before the jumper by Cole end the streak and actually launched a run by Knightstown.

“I was really proud of Bryce and all of the kids who were in there during that second quarter run,” Knightstown coach John Howell said. “The game could have gotten out of hand at that point and they really battled hard and kept us in the game.”

Cole was on the floor with Kyle Buckley, Jordan Back, Jordan Bearhope and Anthony Hibbert, and they all more than held their own against the Eastern Hancock staring five.

In the third quarter the Panthers appeared to take control of the game. Lane and Caleb Kennedy traded buckets, and Zach Apollos then established himself inside. The Panther big man took the ball right to Kennedy on back-to-back possessions, challenge the bigger senior and winning easily. Apollos hit six field goals in the contest and went directly at Kennedy each time.

Colton Kinnaman and Cushing traded field goals and the game was tied at 30 before the Panthers made their move. Knightstown scored 11 unanswered points when Seth Apollos, Lane and Zach Apollos all hit buckets.

That put the Panthers up 36-30 and started things rolling in Knightstown’s direction. Zach Apollos hit Seth with a great back door pass for two, and Kinnaman knocked down his second trey of the quarter.

Suddenly, Knightstown led 41-30 with 1:05 to play in the third quarter and had completed an unlikely 20-7 run over six minutes.

But then it was Eastern Hancock’s turn, and the Panthers gave the Royals plenty of help. Knightstown would turn the ball over nine times during the game’s final nine minutes, opening the door for the comeback.

Roland scored six points and Smith knocked down a trey as the Royals put together a quick 9-0 run to cut the lead to 41-39. Cole again stepped up big for the Panthers, scoring inside off a great pass from Biehl. Cole was fouled by Maroska, and he completed the three-point play to make it 44-39 with 4:04 left.

Roland scored again for the Royals, but Zach Apollos answered with a rebound basket for a 46-41 lead. Roland, who scored nine points in the fourth quarter, hit one free throw. Biehl answered with a freebie to make it 47-42. Biehl missed the second, but Zach Apollos rebounded the miss, giving the Panthers possession of the ball with a five-point lead and just 1:42 showing on the game clock.

That’s pretty much when it all came falling apart for the Panthers. Two crucial turnovers followed, and that returned the momentum to the Royals.

In between those mistakes Jeff Cushing nailed a trey that made it 47-45. Smith followed with another three-pointer that put the Royals up 48-47, completing an 18-6 run that erased the earlier 11-point Knightstown lead.

Zach Apollos responded by going directly at Kennedy again, scoring inside to return the lead to the Panthers at 49-48 with 16 ticks on the clock. Knightstown then rebounded a missed Royal shot, and the freshman Apollos was fouled with 4.8 seconds left.

He missed the front end of the one-and-one, and Kennedy rebounded the ball, getting the outlet pass to Roland. The quick senior rocketed down the court unmolested, driving inside for the scooping lay-up just before the horn.

Seth Apollos’ missed free throw didn’t cost the Panthers this game, however. The team missed four free throws in the fourth quarter. Knightstown’s nine turnovers in the game’s final nine minutes did more to put the team in the hole. Eastern Hancock’s veteran leadership that resulted in them closing the game with a 20-8 run had the biggest impact.

Zach Apollos led the Panthers with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Despite sitting the bench for more than five minutes in the first half, he clearly held his own against Kennedy and four times schooled the senior center with brilliant inside moves for buckets.

Cole finished with 10 points, while Lane and Kinnaman had eight apiece. Seth Apollos and Biehl scored four apiece.

Smith and Kennedy had 14 points apiece, while Roland scored 11, including nine clutch points and the game-winning shot in the fourth quarter.

 

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