Middle Creek’s boys basketball team showed their dramatic win over Panther Creek last month was no fluke, riding a strong shooting night from behind the arc en route to a 77-52 victory.
The Mustangs held Juan Munoz and A.J. Morris, the Catamounts’ leading scorers, to a combined 21 points (the duo combined for 41 points in the teams’ earlier meeting on Dec. 18).
“We were able to change up the way we played defense,” Middle Creek head coach David Kushner said. “We played a lot of zone, we thought Juan (Munoz) and A.J. (Morris) got too many open looks and tightened up on them.”
The Mustangs had won the previous matchup 66-64.
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Middle Creek (8-9, 3-4) came out firing from long-range early on Wednesday, hitting three of their first four shots to take a quick 9-2 lead over Panther Creek (8-9, 4-3) in the first quarter.
Eight of the Mustangs’ 10 three-pointers came from senior guards Sheldon Ebernhardt (20 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) and Justin Tankelewicz (18 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists).
“Coming out and executing on defense turned into offense,” said Tankelewicz. “It got easy shots for us and got us rolling.”
After ending the first quarter with a 19-10 lead, Middle Creek’s defense began to let up, allowing Panther Creek to score 21 points in the ensuing eight minutes. However, the Mustangs were able to hold on to a 39-31 lead entering the half thanks to 13 second quarter points from Ebernhardt.
“He did a nice job, maybe not having his best game overall, but still making key plays,” said Kushner.
The second half is when things began to fall apart for Panther Creek, as they allowed Middle Creek to finish the game on a 38-21 run. Adjustments made at halftime, especially regarding shot selection, were a key point of emphasis for the Mustangs.
“We were settling for too many 3s in the second quarter, probably because we hit a few in the first quarter,” said Kushner. “We really focused on attacking the basket, getting (Tyler Thompson) and (Justin Smalls) into foul trouble, trying to get to the foul line. That made a big difference in the second half; we also pushed the ball really well.”
Tankelewicz pushed Middle Creek over the top in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his 18 points in the final eight minutes.
Panther Creek head coach Shawan Robinson stressed teamwork as a place the Catamounts need to improve on before their conference matchup with Athens Drive this Friday.
“We got to be a team,” said Robinson. “If we go out there like a bunch of individuals, we’ll get beat every night. We need to be one heartbeat.”
Panther Creek scored only seven assisted baskets, compared to Middle Creek, who had 16.
Robinson also cited that fundamental errors on both sides of the floor cost the Catamounts.
“Every time we made it a game, cut it to five or six, we would shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said. “Either we would miss a box-out here, or we wouldn’t get a rebound there, then we would go down and force up a bad shot, they would get an easy shot, and it all snowballed.”
Senior shooting guard Alex Zietlow was a bright spot for the Catamounts, scoring 13 points (three 3s) to lead the Catamounts in scoring.
“(Zietlow) got off for 3 of 4 3-pointers, and he didn’t play the first time,” said Kushner. “I’m very glad that he didn’t.”
Junior center Tyler Thompson was effective under the basket for Panther Creek, racking up four points and 10 rebounds.
Bryson Cousins scored 10 points for the Mustangs and Demetruis Bastian added seven points and seven rebounds.