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St. Croix Central guard D.J. Holland (3) drives to the basket during a recent Panther game.

Panther payoff: St. Croix Central boys basketball earns first two wins

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The raw talent on the St. Croix Central boys basketball team showed early in the season, but it was certainly raw.

With a month of practice under their belts, the Panthers are converting that potential into production. After starting the season 0-4, the Panthers put together a pair of impressive victories last week.

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The first win of the season came last Tuesday when the Panthers traveled to Osceola for a non-conference game. Central fell behind in the opening minutes 11-2. Undeterred, the Panthers came back to defeat the Chieftains 62-54.

The Panthers followed that up with their first Dunn-St. Croix Conference win, taking charge early in a 56-27 homecourt win over Plum City last Thursday.

The win at Osceola was an indication of how far the Panthers have progressed since the start of the season. Osceola jumped out to an 11-2 lead. By the end of the first quarter Central had climbed back into the game, trailing 17-15. Central coach Zach Turpin said the coaches have been preaching patience and having the players trust their skills.

"They finally understand that basketball is a game of runs," Turpin said.

By halftime Central had taken a 28-27 lead. The Panthers built a slim lead heading into the final minutes, before Osceola began to foul. The Panthers would need to be good from the free throw line to close out the win. They were better than good. They hit 14-16 free throws to pull away for the 62-54 win.

The Chieftains have the height to make some shorter teams miserable. Turpin said senior Tyler Lathe gave an excellent defensive effort to neutralize Osceola's center.

The Panthers have learned to use their assets at both ends of the court. The team has players who have natural scoring instincts, led by Damani Jones, Zach Lewis and Jason Matteson. Lewis was the top score in the game with 22 points and Jones finished with 18 points.

When a team has players who possess accurate shooting skills, the next step is getting them to take quality shots, Turpin said. He said the team's shot selection in both wins last week was a key factor that worked in the Panthers' favor.

Thursday's win against Plum City showed how the Panthers' confidence is blossoming. The Panthers held Plum City scoreless in the first quarter, amassing a 14-0 lead. Brandon Booth led Central's charge, scoring eight early points. Central was able to use full-court pressure to force the Blue Devils into several early turnovers.

The Panthers were able to enjoy a comfortable lead through the rest of the game, with the reserves seeing extensive game time. Turpin said Brandon Sheffler was one of the reserves who stood out. He scored seven points "in addition to his usual good defense and rebounding," Turpin said.

Jones was a force in this game, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds. D.J. Holland led the Panthers with four assists.

The Panthers were scheduled to play at Glenwood City on Monday, but that game was postponed for the second time this season. There is a chance that game could be made up as soon as early next week.

The Panthers' improvement will get a big test this Friday. The Panthers play at Colfax, where the Vikings appear to have another team that is fully capable of winning a Dunn-St. Croix Conference title.

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