INDIANA — When your team is outscored by 14 points in the opening 5:23 of the game, it is a hard hill to climb to come back against a talented foe.
A resilient Punxsy boys' basketball team almost climbed to the top of the high comeback mountain on Wednesday night. The Chucks battled back to within four points, 40-36, with four minutes but could not continue the climb.
Punxsy misfired on its last five shots and turned the ball over on the other possession, as Indiana (8-1) netted eight of the last nine points of the contest for the 48-37 victory.
"We dug ourselves a hole to begin the night and had to battle back from there," noted Chucks' head coach Dirk Neal. "We made adjustments defensively to keep them out of rhythm in the second half."
Neal continued the game evaluation, "Indiana had scored 80 (points) a couple times. If we kept them around 50 points, we thought we would have a chance. They are a good offensive and shooting team but we were able to cause some turnovers, which we converted some of those as we were chipping our way back into the game."
The chipping away point-wise came almost exclusively from Brandon Mancuso, who did his best to almost single-handedly bring the Chucks back from a 14-point, 38-24, second-half deficit.
The junior scored 12 straight points for the visiting squad to pull the score to the closest since the opening minutes of the night, 40-36.
With making only seven of 18 free throws attempts (38.9-percent), Punxsy hindered itself from making a more efficient and easier time coming back against Indiana. The home squad was able to connect on 11 of 15 tries from the charity stripe in contrast.
The Chucks (7-2) were a mere two of eight in the first 16 minutes before connecting on a slightly better five of 10 second-half attempts.
After five points in the first half, Mancuso had the hot second-half hand with 17 points for a game-best 22-point night. He also grabbed five rebounds.
"Mancuso played a solid game with 17 of his 22 points coming in the second half," commented the Punxsy coach. "We need some other guys to step up, as that is what we have been talking about. We can't be one dimensional (as a team)."
Tyler Young was the top point producer in the first half for Punxsy with nine, his game point total, and five caroms.
Garrett Zimmerman chipped in two buckets for four points with a team-high six boards, three of which were offensive.
Devin Nicholson clutched six rebounds of his own with one foul shot. Cory Geer made a foul shot for the last Punxsy point.
The night down Route 119 could not have started more rockily.
The Little Indians scored on their opening possession and less than a minute later received a three-pointer from Kevin Jack to begin what would be the decisive period.
Mancuso dropped the first Punxsy points to cut the early deficit to 6-2 before the Indiana spurt started. The home club raced to a 10-0 run over the middle part of the first quarter for a commanding 16-2 advantage 5:23 into the game.
Young netted two buckets for the Chucks to pull the margin to 12 points, 18-6, after eight minutes.
Young added his third basket to start the second frame before five-straight Indiana points pushed the home margin to the largest to that point, 23-8.
Punxsy scratched out a 7-6 scoring lead in the final four minutes of the second period for the 29-15 halftime score.
The Chucks started the second 16 minutes strong as a Mancuso defensive rebound and coast-to-coast layup completed a 5-0 mini spurt to pull Punxsy within nine, 29-20 at 4:10.
The Little Indians were able to hold their visitors at bay the second half of the third period to lead 35-24 heading into the final quarter.
After Indiana netted the first three tallies, the "Mancuso show" was on point-wise for Punxsy. The guard drained a triple to start his 12-straight points. He added a foul shot before picking up his fourth foul with more than four minutes left.
With the four fouls, Mancuso abruptly hit a second trey to make it 38-31. Following a home layup, the Punxsy junior dropped a third long-range shot, was fouled and completed the rare four-point play for a 40-35 score.
A Zimmerman steal led to Mancuso going back to the foul line after being fouled while shooting. He made his second try for a 40-36 contest with four minutes remaining.
Indiana slowly built up the difference again, while Punxsy's last five tries fell off the iron for what would be the 48-37 final.
"At the end, we had some wide open eight to 10-foot layups and jump shots that we just couldn't get to fall," added Neal. "We will have just one day until getting back to business in a tough place to play in Clearfield on Friday. We will see how we respond for the first time from a real defeat."
Indiana was led by Kevin Jack's 13 points. Riley Stapleton contributed 11 points as the other double figure scorer.
In a tightly contested affair, the junior varsity Chucks suffered their first defeat, 37-25, on the season in seven contests.
Punxsy will have today off before traveling to play at Clearfield Friday night starting at 6 p.m.