CARY — In a game played with a rowdy, playoff-like atmosphere, Panther Creek shut down Middle Creek on Friday night and claimed first place in the Tri-Eight Conference.
Senior forward Marques Oliver led the Catamounts to a 60-48 win, which left Panther Creek (16-1, 7-0 Tri-Eight) atop the league standings.
Middle Creek dropped to 15-2, 6-1 in the Tri-Eight.
While Oliver, who has had some big games lately, scored 24 points, it was Panther Creek's defense that stopped Middle Creek senior guards Tom Tankelewicz and Garrius Adams.
Adams, who entered the game with a 22.4-point average, was held to 11. Tankelewicz (19.4-point average) scored just five points. Garrett Leatham led the Mustangs with 13 points.
Catamounts coach L.J. Hepp ran the triangle-and-two defense for most of the game.
"In high school basketball there is a place for some junk defenses," said Hepp, acknowledging that he is generally not a big fan of such defenses. "When you throw them a look that doesn't allow them to have their best guy be involved or their best two guys to be involved, all of the sudden it gets a little frustrating, a little chaotic."
Trailing for nearly the entire game, Middle Creek was forced to shoot from the outside but hit just 4 of 20 3-point attempts.
"We hadn't seen a lot of triangle-and-two until last week," Middle Creek coach Dave Kushner said. "They ran that phenomenally. Their kids were after Tom and Garrius the whole game."
Panther Creek made 4 of 9 3-pointers, including 3s from sophomore Isaiah Johnson and senior Mike Hood in the fourth quarter that helped seal the outcome.
Panther Creek senior guard Earnest Ross (20.4-point average), was held to six points, but he had five assists.
"I can't always do all the work, that's why I'm glad to have those guys playing around me," Ross said of Hood (9 points), Oliver and center Aaron Toney (12 points).
The teams close out the regular season Feb. 13 at Middle Creek.
"We didn't compete as hard as I thought we should have," Kushner said. "One game isn't going to end our season."
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