St. Croix Central boys basketball players show how much they've grown
The St. Croix Central boys basketball players did a lot of growing in the off-season.
The Panthers showed off their growth on Thursday, nearly pulling off an upset in their 2013-14 season opener. The Panthers led 24-21 at halftime against Mondovi and the game was tight right to the final seconds, with Mondovi winning in Hammond 43-41.
Central went 1-15 in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference last season on a team that was nearly all sophomores and freshmen. The team that took the court Thursday bore little resemblance to last year’s squad, showing more composure, while playing with a unified purpose on offense.
“It’s a year of maturity,” Central coach Zach Turpin said in the changes shown by his team. “That experience the kids gained last year pushed them in the off-season.”
Mondovi, which returned most of its starters from an 11-5 season, jumped out to an 8-3 lead in the first five minutes of the game. The Panthers then began hitting open outside shots.
The Panthers went on an 8-0 run early in the second quarter to pull ahead 15-13. The Panthers were playing at a high intensity and it had a definite effect. The Panthers tied the score on a hoop by Doug Cottrell with 25 seconds left in the half. In the waning seconds of the half, Central guard Tony Berg forced a turnover. He drove a few steps past halfcourt, ducked under a Mondovi defender and nailed a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
Turpin said the buzzer beater was the most excited he’s seen his team in some time.
“They were flying high,” he said.
The second half was close the whole way. Central led by one point with 1:40 left, but the Panthers missed several shots and a couple free throws in the final minutes. Central had a chance to tie the game with 23 seconds left but a three-point try wouldn’t fall. Jason Matteson hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to make the final margin 43-41.
Three-pointers were a big part of the Panthers’ success on Thursday. It wasn’t by design, but Mondovi used its height advantage to pack the lane with a zone defense.
“Those aren’t bad shots. Most of our kids are good shooters,” Turpin said.
Sophomore Evan Nielsen led the Panthers with 13 points in his first varsity game. Matteson finished with 11 points.
The Panthers also showed that depth is an asset, especially at guard where the Panthers buzzed around the defensive perimeter like gnats. The Panthers used 10 players in this game and Turpin said that depth will allow the team to continue using heavy defensive pressure.
The next action for the Panthers will be in Plum City on Friday, Dec. 6.