Chucks battle back, need OT in close win

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Not every win goes exactly as planned. Wednesday night was one of those victories for the Chucks basketball team, which hosted Keystone and squeezed by the Panthers, 50-47, in overtime to improve to 10-4 this season.

Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said after the game that he knew from the beginning his team had to jump on Keystone or the Panthers would be dangerous if allowed to hang around.

"We knew, because their coach Greg Heath said before the game, that they're a scrappy team, and they don't really have a point guard," he said. "It's kind of a community effort thing. Whoever grabs the rebound often brings it down, and they just played hard from beginning to end."

Punxsy's Garrett Zimmerman was the team's leading scorer with 16 points, amassing 10 in the third quarter and his other six in the overtime period.

"Garrett had a great game tonight," Neal said. "Coming out of timeouts, he wanted the ball, and fortunately for us, they were sending everybody out to defend our shooters. I'm guessing they wanted to pressure our guards. That opened up the inside, and Garrett, Luke (Janocha) and Ian (Miller) definitely took advantage of that."

While the story had a happy ending for the Chucks, things didn't look so bright at other points, especially in the first half when the Panthers heated up and hit nearly every shot they took.

Punxsy led early behind a basket off the tip by Janocha and a free throw by Alex Fedigan.

Josh Eberhart answered back for Keystone, though, with a three to tie the game.

Punxsy senior point guard Daniel Triponey hit a three to give the Chucks the lead back, and Punxsy maintained that lead for the duration of the period to lead 11-9 at the first break.

The second quarter was when the Panthers started to strike, though, with junior Colton Young coming off the bench to score all 10 of his points in the second.

Eberhart hit two more threes in the quarter, as well, and the Panthers outscored the Chucks 18-10 in the second to open up a six-point halftime lead, 27-21.

The lead was as great as nine, but Triponey hit a clutch three with 15 seconds left on the clock to narrow the gap.

"Unfortunately on our end, they shot the ball really well tonight," Neal said. "Coach Heath said before the game that's something they hadn't been doing so well lately, but they sure shot very well tonight, especially in the first half."

It seemed the Panthers were hitting every shot they took, and Neal said part of the problem is you can't stop all the shots. But he also said his team could have played a little more solid defensively to prevent some of the shots.

"You like to contest those shots," he said. "I thought we came out with some flat-footed defense, which I didn't expect. They were moving and coming off screens, but in the same breath we weren't defending well, which gave them some looks. And they were just knocking them down."

Punxsy outscored the Panthers 14-9 in the third quarter, thanks mostly to Zimmerman's 10 points as the pressure stepped out to defend the guards.

Neal credited the guards with finding the open passing lanes and credited his bigs for finishing on their opportunities.

Late in the third quarter, a shot by Brandon Mancuso put Punxsy ahead for the first time since the beginning of the second, but the lead didn't last long, as the game's high-scorer, Tyler Beichner, knocked down two of his 10 on an off-balance buzzer-beater to give the Panthers a 36-35 edge after three.

Keystone pushed its lead to six points again with a pair of free throws by Adam Lencer and another basket by Beichner early in the fourth.

At that point, Keystone slowed the pace of the game, forcing Punxsy's defense to be more aggressive — a move that proved to backfire in the end.

Punxsy's aggressive defenders were able to avoid fouling the Panthers' ball handlers, and in the final two minutes, Punxsy forced two turnovers and a missed shot.

On the offensive end, Ian Miller scored a pair of transition buckets to pull Punxsy back within two.

After a missed shot, Punxsy held the ball for a moment before Triponey stepped up and knocked down a three to give the Chucks a one-point edge with just 14 seconds remaining.

Keystone took a timeout, and after writing up a play, Beichner took the ball to the hole but was fouled on his way there to earn a bonus situation.

Beichner nailed the first free throw to tie it, but missed the second, setting the clock in motion with just seconds remaining.

Keystone came up with the offensive rebound, but Punxsy forced a turnover and was unable to score at the other end, sending the game to overtime.

In overtime, Zimmerman took over again, as Keystone's defense returned to taking away the outside shot, and Zimmerman's six points and a Triponey foul shot rounded out the scoring and proved to be enough for the Chucks' 50-47 win.

After the game, Neal spoke of the importance of having a plethora of leaders on his squad willing to step up and accept the leadership role.

"Some of the success that some of these boys had in football, even though it's a completely different sport, has carried over," he said. "Our big guys came in as totally different players than they had been in the past. On top of that, these guys are all happy with their roles. Whether they have two points, four points, 14 points or 16 points, they know they're going to get rebounds and contribute in other ways."

Zimmerman's 16 led the way for Punxsy, and he also had 10 rebounds to complete the double-double. Triponey followed closely behind him with 14 points to go with seven rebounds.

Janocha also added 10 rebounds for the Chucks.

Beichner was the game's overall high-scorer with 20 points.

After Wednesday night's scare, Punxsy heads into another difficult league game against a diverse DuBois squad Friday night in Punxsutawney.

"They're a very athletic team," Neal said. "We have to be ready to defend against them. Coach (Darrin) Kriebel and I will have to think about our defensive schemes and mix it up a bit. Sometimes, they come at you with five guards on the perimeter and no big guys. They'll also shoot a lot of threes, especially if they're making them."

In the evening's opening act, Punxsy's JVs remained undefeated (12-0) with a 47-31 victory over the Panthers.

Punxsy took advantage of a quick start by the game's high-scorer, Cory Geer, who scored the game's first two baskets.

Keystone answered with a pair of three-pointers, but Punxsy's Clayton Dale hit a two, and Michael Rosenberger scored the go-ahead basket with three minutes left in the quarter to put Punxsy ahead for good.

As is typically the case, Punxsy benefitted from a balanced scoring attack with Geer scoring 13 to set the pace and Dale contributing 11, including three threes.

Michael Klingensmith scored eight for the Chucks, Will Curtis added seven, and Matt Burkett scored six.

Rosenberger's two points rounded out the Chucks' scoring.

The JVs will look to keep the perfect season alive Friday with a 6 p.m. tipoff against the Beavers, and the varsity game will follow.