Panthers upset Comanches in second round at Centralia

News-DemocratDecember 28, 2013 

— The big win that the O'Fallon Panthers have been craving didn't elude them this time.

Naason Cook scored 10 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Panthers knocked off the two-time defending champion Cahokia Comanches 57-50 on Friday at the Centralia Holiday Tournament.

"We said going into the this tournament that we felt like we won the games that we were supposed to win and lost the games that we were supposed to lose," O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson said. "We said that this was a chance to get a big win, a win that people aren't expecting us to get. I would definitely say this qualifies."

The Panthers (6-5) will play the Alton Redbirds (9-0) at 12:30 p.m. semifinal Saturday.

The winner will play for the championship at 9 p.m. Saturday, while the loser will play for third place at 7:30 p.m.

The Redbirds beat the Panthers 66-49 on Dec. 10 in Alton.

The loss sends the Comanches (7-4) to the fifth-place bracket, where they'll play the Raleigh Egypt Pharaohs (5-5) at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in the annex gymnasium.

"It's a humbling piece of pie," Cahokia coach Darian Nash said. "We're going to have our ups and downs with this team, but at the end we're probably going to be pretty good. We're young and inexperienced at certain spots, and we just have to learn how to put that away."

The Comanches led by 10 points early in the third quarter, but the Panthers fought back to take a 37-35 lead on back-to-back baskets by Cook to start the fourth quarter.

"We're a team that plays hard," Cook said of the Panthers' comeback. "We play hard and we come for big games, and we excelled today. This was a big game. We were waiting for this game. Once they said we were playing them, we were like, 'We have to come out and win."'

Asked if the win was the biggest win of his career, Cook said, "Probably. I can't stop smiling right now."

The score was tied three times before the Panthers went ahead for good on two free throws by Donovan Franklin with 4:07 left.

Cook hit a 16-foot jumper and then sank two free throws with 1:40 remaining to give the Panthers a 49-44 lead.

"He has been a kid who has been lacking a little in confidence early in the year, and the last couple games he has been starting to get that," Gibson said of Cook, a 5-foot-10 senior guard who comes off the bench. "He is a big part of our team and to see him step up the last couple of games -- he had nine yesterday and (13) today -- that's huge."

Chance Armstrong took the ball to the basket after the Panthers beat the Comanches' press with 1:14 on the clock.

Armstrong ended up converting a three-point play to put the Panthers ahead 52-44 with 1:14 on the clock.

A free throw by Franklin stretched the Panthers' lead to 54-44 with 40 seconds left.

Darius Austin and Carleton Rivers Jr. hit 3-pointers in the late going, but the Comanches were unable to dig out of the double-digit hole.

Franklin paced the Panthers with 15 points and six rebounds. Bradley Harrison chipped in nine points and Darien McClain and Armstrong each had seven points.

Austin led the Comanches with 17 points, six rebounds and four steals. Tarkus Ferguson had 11 points and Rivers had 10 points and a team-high nine rebounds.

The Panthers committed only 14 turnovers, which enabled them to contain the Comanches' fast-break offense and control the tempo.

O'Fallon also outrebounded the Comanches 28-20.

"We wanted to slow them down, but yet we're not a slow-down team," Gibson said. "It was more of a controlled slow down, where we wanted to get some good shots. The key was being able to check off, and I think we did a pretty decent job of doing that."

Centralia 61, Belleville West 33

The Centralia Orphans were 8-for-17 from 3-point range and they pulled away in the third quarter to a win over the Belleville West Maroons.

"We knew that they have five guys that can shoot the ball well from the outside, and if they had a good shooting night, we were going to be in some trouble unless we shot the ball well, too,'' West coach Joe Muniz said.

But, the Maroons didn't shoot the ball well. They were 11-for-47 (23 percent) from the field, including 1-for-17 (six percent) from 3-point range.

"We've been guarding all season long,'' Muniz said. "Our Achilles' heel is that we just can't put the ball in the hole.''

The Orphans (10-0) advance to play the Champaign Central Maroons (6-4) at 2 p.m. Saturday in the semifinal round.

The Maroons (3-6) will play the Madison College Prep Bears (9-1) at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in the semifinal round of the fifth-place bracket.

Eugene Jones was the lone scorer in double figures for the Maroons with 13 points.

The Orphans had four players in double figures as Ryan Obermeier had 12 points, Jerod Simmons-Young and Jake Wood had 11 points and Chase Alcorn finished with 10.

A 3-pointer Obermeier gave the Orphans a quick 3-0 lead, which they expanded to 11-2 thanks to 3-pointers from Wood and Obermeier.

The Orphans led 17-10 at the end of the first quarter and 23-11 after a basket from underneath by Wood in the second quarter.

Khalil Fowler had a steal and breakaway layup with 18 seconds left in the second quarter to trim the Maroons' deficit to 23-16.

The Maroons drew within 23-20 on back-to-back baskets by Jones to start the third quarter, but successive 3s from Alcorn, Wood and Obermeier sent the Orphans on a 13-0 run that put them ahead 36-20.

Wood hit a 3 with four seconds left in the third quarter that put the Orphans up 42-21.

Contact reporter Steve Korte at skorte@bnd.com or 239-2522.

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