RALEIGH — There aren't likely to be too many easy nights in Tri-Eight Conference boys basketball this season, and Friday certainly wasn't -- even if Panther Creek's Marques Oliver made it look easy.
The senior forward took control of a tightly played game, scoring 11 of his 23 points in the third quarter, to hand host Athens Drive its first loss of the season in a 57-48 decision.
The game left up for grabs a conference that may be the strongest in the area.
Panther Creek coach L.J. Hepp isn't surprised the Tri-Eight is so strong this year, especially with all the returning starters in the conference's top tier of teams.
"We get to play games like this all the time," he said of the high level of competition.
Athens Drive coach Robert Clemmons said his team would bounce back.
"This ballgame here isn't going to determine who wins the conference," said Clemmons, whose Jaguars (13-1, 4-1 Tri-Eight) are now in third place.
The Catamounts (14-1, 5-0) have a share of the conference lead with Middle Creek (13-2, 5-0).
Panther Creek played a diamond-and-one defense, a hybrid of zone and one-on-one, to limit Athens Drive senior forward Josh Davis.
Davis entered the game averaging 26.4 points per game, but he had only six points heading into the final period. He finished with 14 points.
Hepp used three football players to limit Davis: sophomore Isaiah Johnston and seniors Mike Hood and Tyler Gattis.
"We wanted those guys to be physical, kind of have a football mentality with him," Hepp said. "It was something we set out to do."
Clemmons said next time (the teams meet on Feb. 6) his Catamounts would do "something where we can free him up. ...
"We knew going into the ballgame, Josh wasn't going to have a large scoring night," Clemmons said. "But we needed to have more balance in our scoring. I don't think we shot the ball particularly well, and that led to some frustration. Then that let to some turnovers."
Panther Creek senior guard Earnest Ross added 15 points, and senior center Aaron Toney scored 10 points.
Athens Drive was led by Quentin Edmundson, who scored 17 points.
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