Panthers eager to begin new season
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
LaGrange College and Huntingdon College are fierce rivals on the basketball court, and it is usually a packed house when those two foes get together.
It’ll be a different scene when the cross-state rivals face off on Thursday at Mariotti Gym in the season opener for LaGrange College.
Because of Covid-19 restrictions, there won’t be any fans, but the game will go on, and the Panthers are eager to jump into a season that’s beginning about two months later than usual.
It will be the start of a 12-game regular season for LaGrange College, and all of the games are against USA South opponents.
“They’re extremely excited to say the least,” said LaGrange head coach Kendal Wallace. “Of course they wish their moms and dads and classmates could be there with them, but this is the way it has to go down. They’re excited about it. Believe me.”
The Panthers are looking to rebound from a disappointing 2019-2020 season.
Primarily because of their inability to prevail in close games, the Panthers went 7-18, and they finished with a losing record for the first time since the 2011-2012 season.
“We lost 10 games by seven points or less. It was very frustrating,” Wallace said. “You make three layups, and you’re right there. You make three or four more free throws and you win the game. That’s kind of how we’ve been going about practice the last couple of days. We just want to make sure we’re trying to do the simple things, and do them as well as we can.”
The Panthers have thrived under the leadership of Wallace, who arrived at LaGrange College in 2011 after a stint at Maryville College as an assistant coach.
Beginning with the 2012-2013 season, the Panthers won the USA South tournament championship in three of the next four years, and they made four consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division III national tournament.
The Panthers took a step back last season, and Wallace is counting on the team’s veterans to help get things back on track this year.
“The team really has some great chemistry this year,” Wallace said. “I think having a down season last year, they’ve been thinking about that since the last game of last season. They’ve made it really easy on me at practice. I don’t have an assistant coach or a (grad assistant) or anybody, so I’m out there by myself. All of my seniors as well as my juniors have all stepped up and taken a leadership role on the team. I’m excited to watch them play. If we can cut down on turnovers, and make the simple play, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Leading the way are the team’s four seniors, Lincoln Anderson, Kyle Brown, Julian Cameron and Ronald Youngblood.
Cameron was the Panthers’ top scorer last season at 19 points per game, and he was an all-conference player.
Anderson, a LaGrange Academy graduate, is coming off his best season at LaGrange College.
Anderson averaged a career-best 13.6 points per game while making close to 60 percent of his shot attempts, and he pulled down seven rebounds a game.
Youngblood scored 10.4 points per game last season, and Brown averaged 9.8 points a game.
Anderson is looking forward to helping the Panthers get things headed in the right direction following a challenging season.
“We lost a lot of close games,” Anderson said last summer. “We lost a great amount of seniors from the year before, and people who got a lot of playing time. We had people playing more minutes, playing different roles, playing different positions. I think that was the thing we lacked a little bit. We didn’t have any seniors. Coming back this year, I think everybody knows that they have to step up one or two things within their personal game to help the whole team, to increase chemistry on the court. I think everybody coming back knows that. Everybody that’s coming back knows that we are going out to win every game and not give up, try to finish the game.”
Wallace is happy to have Anderson and the other seniors leading the way.
“The four seniors that I have, I can say they’ve been through everything,” Wallace said. “They’ve seen it all. They’re very eager and excited to get out there.”
LAGRANGE COLLEGE SCHEDULE
Jan. 14 – Huntingdon at LaGrange College, 6 p.m.
Jan. 16 – LaGrange College at Huntingdon, 3 p.m.
Jan. 22 – LaGrange College at Piedmont, 6 p.m.
Jan. 23 – Piedmont at LaGrange College, 6 p.m.
Jan. 30 – Berea at LaGrange College, 1 p.m.
Jan. 31 – Berea at LaGrange College, 1 p.m.
Feb. 4 – Covenant at LaGrange College, 7 p.m.
Feb. 6 – LaGrange College at Covenant, 4 p.m.
Feb. 12 –Brevard at LaGrange College, 7 p.m.
Feb. 13 – Brevard at LaGrange College, 4 p.m.
Feb. 25 – LaGrange College at Maryville, 3 p.m.
Feb. 27 – Maryville at LaGrange College, 3 p.m.