Second-half surge boosts Panthers to win over West

Special to the News-DemocratFebruary 7, 2014 

The O'Fallon Panthers shook off Belleville West in the second half to record a 56-52 win Friday night in Southwestern Conference play.

O'Fallon (13-8, 6-3 SWC) opened the second half with nine unanswered points to break free from a controlling West defense which had kept the Maroons within one score for much of the first half.

"The first three or four minutes of the third quarter are so big. We got a couple steals, and a couple of fast-break trips," said O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson." We were just being more aggressive."

O'Fallon earned its fourth-straight win, while the Maroons (4-15, 2-8) have won just once in their last 11 games.

"It's a very frustrating start to the second half, because I really felt we were in a good place," said West coach Joe Muniz. "I thought our kids executed the game plan well. They just came out and blitzed us, and made a bunch of shots."

West never led after the first quarter, but closed a five-point deficit to 20-19 on a score by senior Cale Dibadj in the final minute of the first half.

O'Fallon junior Darien McClain's runner off the backboard at the buzzer ignited the second-half run, which saw the Panthers stretch their lead to 31-19.

McClain finished with 17 points.

"The first half went the way we wanted it to go," Muniz said. "I thought we should have been up six, seven, maybe eight points because we had a number of one-footers that we missed, and we gave them an easy layup at the end of the half."

With O'Fallon leading 18-13, West narrowed the lead to one on back-to-back scores by senior forward Cole Henke and junior guard Eugene Jones.

Each run by West, though, could not swing the lead the Maroons' way.

Panthers sophomore Chance Armstrong's six first-quarter points helped O'Fallon lead 12-11 after a quarter.

In the third, junior Donovan Franklin made sure the Panthers did not relinquish it with nine of his game-high 21 points.

"I'd like to see them get more aggressive throughout the game. Chance did it a little bit in the first half, and Donovan had it more in the second half," Gibson said. "I'd like to see them doing it throughout the game."

O'Fallon held its largest lead of 16 points in the middle of the third quarter after consecutive 3-pointers from Franklin and McClain.

West rallied with a 12-4 run over a seven-minute stretch that extended to the middle of the fourth quarter, but O'Fallon ended the threat with six straight points to take a 51-37 lead.

The Maroons could only close the lead to five at 54-49 until Dibadj sank a 3 at the buzzer to tighten the final score.

Jones led West with 14 points. Freshman Tyler Dancy added 12.

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