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Irish’s Pankey leads late push vs WGH

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes -- Ursuline junior Jakylan Irving passes outside during the first half against Warren G. Harding on Tuesday in Youngstown. Irving had 12 points in the Fighting Irish victory.

YOUNGSTOWN — You couldn’t pair up two teams in completely different situations if you wanted to Tuesday evening.

After dropping three out of the first four contests of the season, the Ursuline Fighting Irish are starting to catch fire on the court with four consecutive wins. Meanwhile, after a month-long shutdown, Warren G. Harding is back on the court as teams from Trumbull Country are still easing into the campaign.

The result was a thrilling contest with a lot of stolid defense, but when the white LED numbers on the scoreboard at Ursuline High School hit zero, the Fighting Irish walked off the winners of five straight with a 60-46 victory.

Extending the win streak to five wasn’t easy.

Ursuline hit four 3-pointers in the first quarter to lead 15-4 over Harding, and it appeared early that the Fighting Irish might have been in the driver’s seat, but the Raiders made sure that wasn’t the case.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes -- Ursuline’s Terrance Pankey shoots and scores during the first half against Harding.

Thanks in large part to senior Jabari Felton and his six second-quarter points, Harding (0-4) battled back and cut the deficit to two points at 24-22 going into the locker room. They weren’t done as senior Emari Burgess scored on an and-1 to give Harding a 29-28 lead early in the third.

Fighting Irish coach Keith Gunther was devising up a plan, and he put it into motion.

“I was getting a little frustrated with how we were playing defensively and giving up easy baskets,” he said. “At halftime we had talked about going zone because they were hurting us in penetration, so we came out at half in a little bit of zone, and they were still scoring, and I said, that’s it.”

Downtown 31-30, Ursuline sophomore Terrance Pankey scored off a miss to put his team back out in front, 32-31, and then Harding took one final lead off a basket from senior Aston Bates at, 33-32.

That was Harding’s final lead of the evening.

“I said we’re going all out,” Gunter said.

“I said we’re going to make it an up-and-down game, and we pressed, and we got those turnovers on a consistent basis and easy buckets that changed the game.”

What ensued was six straight turnovers, with junior Jakylan Irving and Pankey each scoring off botched inbounds plays. Ursuline took a 38-33 lead to end the period and didn’t look back.

Harding coach Keelyn Franklin thinks the miscues will work themselves out going forward.

“(Ball control) is a huge emphasis, we’ve been working on it, we’re going to continue to work on it,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of what you would call pure ball handlers on our team so it has to be by committee.

“We just got to make better decisions, we got to play fast on defense, slow down on offense, and it’s a team situation. We got to meet passes, there’s a lot of things we got to work on, but we’ll continue to chop away at it.”

After scoring a career-best 25 in a loss to West Branch in the season opener, Pankey tallied a new high mark of 30 in the win over the Raiders.

“It feels all right,” he said. “As long as we get the win, I’m cool with it.”

He’s also become an emerging leader in the Ursuline lineup.

“I’m mostly a defensive player, energy player, so I bring energy to the team,” he said. “I help my guys get energy, especially on the bench, while I’m on the bench I make sure that they have energy, and that they’re playing hard and everything.”

Following the contest, Gunther held high praise for his sophomore guard, comparing him to one of the best that have come out of Ursuline.

“Terrance’s upside is so high right now,” he said. “He has an opportunity to be one of the best kids to ever come out of our program. He plays the game the right way, he plays hard defensively, he rebounds the basketball, he works every game, he works hard at the game.”

“I’m going to give him a compliment, he reminds me of one of the greatest players I’ve ever coached in D’Aundray Brown. D’Aundray Brown had an absolutely wonderful career at Cleveland State,” Gunther added. “Terrance is up at that level. He’s up with those guys like Mark Hughes (Wright State), and if he continues to work at his game, he continues to progress, he’ll have a chance to be the next D-I player that comes out of here, and possibly one of the greatest players to ever come out of here.”

Irving finished with 12, junior Brady Shannon tallied 10 for Ursuline (6-4). Harding was paced by Bates’ 14 and Burgess with 10.

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