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Sharp half shows St. Croix Central boys basketball potential

St. Croix Central guard Evan Nielsen (right) drives to the basket during Friday’s clash with Spring Valley.

Spring Valley is one of the top boys basketball teams in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference.

In the first half last Friday in Hammond, the Cards weren’t the best team on the court. St. Croix Central’s boys held a 24-17 lead over Spring Valley at halftime. The Panthers couldn’t match Spring Valley’s scoring in the second half, falling to the Cardinals 46-39.

The loss drops the Panthers to 1-5 in conference play while Spring Valley stands at 5-1, tied for second place in the D-SC standings behind Elk Mound.

The first half showed how the Panthers have changed over the opening months of the season. Central coach Zach Turpin said he’s been having the team play at a more controlled pace. He said the pace has helped the Panthers cut down their turnover totals, allowing the team to be more productive in the halfcourt offense. Turpin said the willingness of the guards to drive is making the offense more efficient.

“The guards got into the lane and our posts got some easy shots off that,” he said.

The Panthers put together an 11-2 run in the first quarter to lead 13-6 at the break. The Panthers were able to build the lead as large as nine points during the second quarter. They led 24-17 at halftime.

Part of the Panthers’ first half success was a diligent defensive effort against Spring Valley leading scorer Zac Webster. Webster ranks among the leading scorers in the conference, but he managed just four points against Central’s zone defense in the first half.

Spring Valley started the second half with every intention of getting Webster more involved in the offense. They opened the half with a set play that resulted in him hitting a three-pointer. Webster dominated the quarter, scoring 15 of the Cards’ 21 points. By the end of the quarter the Cards had taken a 38-33 lead.

The fourth quarter was played with 5-8 point margin throughout the quarter. The Panthers had chances to cut into that margin, but couldn’t knock down more shots.

“In the second half we got similar shots, we just didn’t make them,” Turpin said. “We had the right people taking the shots.”

Jason Matteson led the Panthers with 10 points and Josh Albright scored nine points.

Turpin said his players recognize that the team has improved and they’re hungry to see the progress start resulting in wins.

“It’s putting together two good halves in a row,” Turpin said. “Our second half wasn’t bad, it was just poor shooting.”

The Panthers have one of their best chances for a win this Thursday when they play at Glenwood City. The teams are tied in the conference standings with 1-5 records. The Panthers face a big challenge next Tuesday, when they host conference-leading Elk Mound.