CARY — CARY -- The similar records that Cary and Panther Creek's boys basketball teams held entering Friday's showdown at Charlie Adams Gymnasium didn't reflect how different each team has approached the beginning of the new year.
Panther Creek coach Mark Adams thinks his roster full of juniors and sophomores is jelling at the right time. Cary's Allan Gustafson must adjust his lineup drastically after losing power forward Donte Johnson due to eligibility reasons right after Johnson put up two double-doubles in the GlaxoSmithKline Holiday Invitational.
And with Panther Creek holding off a late charge from Cary (9-4, 5-3) for a 66-62 road win, the Catamounts (9-2, 6-1) surpassed the Imps for second place in the Tri-Nine Conference.
"I've got to give a lot of credit to these kids. I'm the third coach they've had in three years and that's a lot of coaching, a lot of different styles and systems," Adams said. "And to their credit, they've embraced the system defensively and offensively."
The Imps jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead in the first quarter, which caused Adams to insert senior Isaiah Johnson into the game. The impact was immediate, as Isaiah Johnson hit floaters, scored in the low post and blew by Cary defenders off the dribble to the tune of a game-high 22 points.
"I knew that my team was good enough to go out there and score and play defense," Isaiah said. "I wasn't concerned coming off the bench, I didn't let it faze me."
Junior Jon Hood had similar success when driving into the lane, scoring 17 for the Catamounts.
"We knew coming into Cary was going to be a hostile environment," Hood said. "We knew we had to stay under control."
Panther Creek had five players with eight points or more, getting exactly eight from Dan Beilinson, David Robertson and Jamel Ross.
Anthony Shelton had 20 points to lead Cary, which also got 13 points from Austin Brannen and 11 from Stephen Bajorek. It was a cold shooting night for the Imps, hitting 5-of-21 3-pointers.
Cary trailed by 10 with 1:30 left in the fourth when Gustafson started pulling his starters. But he wasn't waving a white flag.
By substituting offense for defense every possession, Cary scraped its way to being down just two points with 25 seconds left.
Without Donte Johnson for the rest of the year, the Imps will get have to get used to overcoming adversity.
"We don't give up," Gustafson said. "We're going to fight hard and play hard all the way to the final buzzer."
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