PUNXSUTAWNEY — After an important, emotional win over the Brookville Raiders last Friday night in Punxsutawney, the Chucks basketball team was riding on cloud nine entering its non-league matchup against the Indiana Indians Tuesday night in Punxsutawney. Unfortunately for the Chucks, the Indians' high-power offense and pressure defense proved to be too much, and Indiana pulled off a 61-39 win.
The gymnasium was packed at PAHS in anticipation of the return of former Chuck Logan Weaver to his old stomping grounds, but it was his teammate Tyrayl Veney who lit up the scoreboard to steal the show with 16 points on the night.
Things looked good for the Chucks in the first quarter, as Punxsy controlled the tempo to slow the game down and fought to earn a 12-9 lead at the first break.
"That first quarter, I thought we did really well," Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said after the game. "We wanted to slow things down a little bit after watching them on tape a couple of times, because we knew they were a good shooting team.
"We wanted to take our zone defense, spread it out a little bit and be ready to contest those good shooters."
Punxsy succeeded at first, but Indiana senior point guard Alex Pettina heated up and put a pair of quick threes on the board to change Punxsy's strategy a bit.
"I'm not going to say that our early strategy backfired on us, but some of their guys stepped up for them," Neal said. "Pettina had a nice game with three quick threes, and that kind of forced us to get out of our game a little bit."
While Indiana was relying on the outside shot to earn its points, the Chucks were pounding the rock down low to junior forward Garrett Zimmerman, who scored six points in the first quarter to push Punxsy to the early lead.
Indiana started to find its stride to begin the second quarter, though, as its adaptations caught Punxsy off guard long enough to steal the lead.
A quick three by Pettina and buckets by three different Indians forced Punxsy to call a quick timeout trailing 18f12.
"Indiana's a nice team, and they make adjustments really well," Neal said. "They kind of go with the flow until they get a good read on everything, and they have a little bit of everything they can throw at you. Tonight, I thought they threw it all at us after that first quarter."
It seemed as if Punxsy made some adjustments of its own during the timeout, as Punxsy senior Alex Fedigan drained a quick two on the first possession out of the timeout, but Indiana scored the next six points on quick transition baskets to further extend its lead and force another Punxsy timeout.
"We kind of sputtered a bit in that second quarter," Neal said. "We didn't get the offensive looks we wanted, but even with that, we knew we were still in it at halftime."
Although things looked dismal for the Chucks with three minutes left in the half, a pair of threes late in the second quarter by sophomore Brandon Mancuso and a buzzer-beating layup by senior point guard Daniel Triponey seemed to give Punxsy the momentum and new life heading into halftime down 32-22.
Unfortunately for the Chucks, after Triponey's buzzer-beater to end the first half, their next basket didn't come until the first minute of the fourth quarter, as the Indians outscored them 17-0 in the third with stifling defense.
"That third quarter really did us in when we put a goose egg on the board," Neal said. "I think their defense had a lot to do with it. We're still not in the flow yet of being used to playing with each other, and that's something we'll have to work on at practice over the holidays. We'll continue to work on our offense and our decision-making as far as when you should do something versus doing something else."
Trailing 49-22 entering the third quarter, the Chucks made the best of the fourth quarter, beating the Indians 17-12 in the frame with plenty of players deep on both benches seeing time in the period.
Punxsy's Devin Nicholson lit up the scoreboard for Punxsy, scoring six points in the fourth quarter, and sophomore point guard Clayton Dale also earned a basket.
Punxsy's final points came from Tim Pearce with a three-pointer from the wing.
Despite the tough loss, Neal said he is confident in his team's ability to bounce back as it begins preparation for the Holiday Tournament, which the Chucks will host Dec. 28-29. Neal said he didn't think there'd be any hangover from the loss.
"Not at all; not with this group," he said. "We spent time talking about that after the game, and we're ready. We'll bounce back tomorrow and get back to work.
"You hate to say it, but sometimes, you like to play a squad like that at this point in the season so you can see, as a coach, where your team is. And as a player, you can put it all in perspective a little bit. That way, you're not overconfident, and you learn where you can get better. We'll get back to it tomorrow, look ahead to the Holiday Tournament, and after that, we'll roll into the new year."
Punxsy opens the tournament Dec. 28 with a 7:45 p.m. game against Curwensville.
The bright spot for the Chucks Tuesday night was the junior varsity team's performance, as it earned a 42-38 win over the previously-undefeated Indians to improve to 4-0 on the season.
"It was a great all-around effort to pick up that win," Punxsy junior varsity coach Darrin Kriebel said after the game. "All eight players contributed to this win."
After jumping out to a 7-0 lead with three points by Cory Geer and a pair of baskets by Nicholson, Punxsy's offense went stagnant, and the Indians outscored Punxsy 21-5 for the rest of the half to lead 18-15 at halftime.
Kriebel's halftime adjustments gave Punxsy the edge coming out, though, and the Chucks outscored Indiana 12-7 to regain the lead, 27-25, after three quarters.
Nicholson hit half of a pair of free throws and a fallaway shot on the Chucks' next possession to start the fourth quarter, and Punxsy held on despite a late push by the Indians.
Geer hit a pair of free throws with eight seconds remaining to ice the win for the Chucks.
Nicholson led the Chucks' scoring barrage with 16 points, and Geer pitched in with 11.
Tyler Young came off the bench with six second-half points, Will Curtis scored five for the Chucks, and Michael Klingensmith wrapped up the scoring with four points.
Next up for the junior varsity squad is a consolation game Dec. 29 at 10 a.m. at the Holiday Tournament against Marion Center's JVs.