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Panthers get one win, narrowly miss second

St. Croix Central guard Tony Berg (5) looks to attack a seam in the Boyceville defense during last Friday’s game. (Photo by Dave Newman)

After winning once in its first 15 games, the St. Croix Central boys basketball team had the chance to put a winning streak together.

The Panthers earned their second win on Thursday with a 56-50 decision at Elmwood. The Panthers were hoping to earn their first home-court win of the season the following night against Boyceville, who the Panthers had beaten early in the season. The Panthers had chances to put Friday’s game away. But while they were missing late shots, Boyceville was able to sink a three-pointer with 10 seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 47-46 win.

Last Thursday’s 56-50 win at Elmwood ended an eight-game losing streak for the Panthers.

Panther coach Zach Turpin said the Panthers didn’t play a perfect game at Elmwood, but that’s also good news. The team now knows that it doesn’t have to play perfectly to win games. After the several near-misses the team has had, Turpin said this win will revive the team’s confidence.

The Panthers trailed 24-22 at halftime, but took charge of the game by outscoring the Raiders 20-10 in the third quarter.

The one area that really swung this game in the Panthers’ favor was offensive rebounding. Led by Josh Albright, the Panthers hit the boards hard. Albright was rewarded by scoring a game-high and career-high 18 points.

“Our bigs were crashing the offensive glass,” Turpin said. “Josh got a lot of second chance points. He did a good job of earning those.”

It wasn’t just the post players who were instrumental in the win. The Panther guards, led by Evan Nielsen and Jason Matteson, were creating scoring opportunities with strong moves to the basket.

“We shot the ball better, mostly because we got layups,” Turpin said. “We didn’t settle for jump shots.”

Central’s coaches pretty much had to redo their game plan in the minutes just before Friday’s game. The Panthers were already without one of their four post players with Josh Freyholtz sidelined with an injury. In Friday’s warmups, Doug Cottrell, who was scheduled to start, reinjured his ankle.

The Panthers started their two remaining posts, Albright and John Spaeth. They had trouble keeping up with Boyceville’s more mobile post players in the first half, which led to Boyceville building a 32-25 halftime lead.

In the third quarter, the Panthers switched to a matchup zone defense and a one-post lineup. The moves couldn’t have worked out better. The Panthers outscored the Bulldogs 14-3 in the third quarter to take a 39-35 lead.

That lead was maintained throughout most of the fourth quarter. As the Panthers tried to put away the game, they missed several shots and a pair of late turnovers that opened the door for Boyceville’s comeback.

Central was led in scoring by Tyler Anderson’s 12 points, which included three three-pointers. Albright scored 10 points. Guard Connor Lyksett led the team with seven rebounds.

The Panthers get another chance to win before their home crowd this Thursday when they host Elmwood. There are just three games remaining on the Panthers’ regular season schedule.