By Greg Gulas
The East High Panthers started the season 9-1, and after dropping four of their last five contests they’ve tried desperately to reclaim their winning ways.
They’ve lost five games this season by a total of 14 points, including two by two points, two by three points and yet another by a mere four-point margin.
Deontay Scott scored 17 points while Taylor Johnson added 14 as the Panthers stymied the Cardinals, 64-51, on Friday night.
The win gave the Panthers a split of the season series with the Cardinals as they avenged a 55-53 to Cardinal Mooney on Dec. 7.
“We felt like we needed to play harder as a team, think while the ball was in our possession, make better decisions and for the most part, just show up and play,” Johnson said. “We had to get our fire back and I think we did that tonight. Defense wins championships and tonight we played excellent defense.”
The Cardinals built an early 9-2 lead on the strength of Doug Caputo’s two buckets, but the Panthers closed the quarter with a 6-3 run and trailed just 12-8 after the first eight minutes of play.
A Caputo bucket 31 seconds into the second period gave the Cardinals their biggest advantage at 15-8, but triples by both Taylor and Patrick Johnson helped the Panthers on a 10-0 run as they built an 18-15 lead.
Two buckets by Joe Cunningham and a bucket from beyond the arc by Joey Kleeh helped Cardinal Mooney (6-6) retake the lead at 22-20, and with the score knotted at 25-apiece East (11-5) used buckets by Marquis Cotton and Patrick Johnson to forge a 29-25 halftime advantage.
East stayed in front the rest of the game.
“During those losses we started slow and picked it up late, but found out the hard way that doesn’t always work,” Scott said. “Tonight we had plenty of intensity right from the outset, played good defense the entire game and hit the offensive boards.”
Two buckets by Taylor Johnson and field goals by both Terrell McClain and Scott helped East on a 12-2 run after the intermission as they built a 37-27 margin.
Field goals by the Cardinals’ George Brandenstein and Marcus Penza, and a triple by Kleeh would cut the Panthers’ lead to 37-32, but the two teams then split the final 16 points which enabled East to build a 45-40 lead with one period remaining.
“We’re a young team and one of the things we need to remember is that we need to impose out will on the game,” Panthers coach Dennis Simmons. “We’re successful when we get the ball up and down the court, pound the ball inside and play pressure defense.”
That defense stifled too many Mooney opportunities.
“We had too many empty possessions and we’re still doing inconsistent things like not jump-stopping and telegraphing our passes,” Cardinals coach Brian Danilov said. “We had too many turnovers that resulted in points for East. You cannot commit 23 turnovers and still expect to beat a good team like the Panthers.”