Panthers put up big numbers in season debut
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It was an impressive opening statement for the LaGrange College Panthers.
Facing Huntingdon in a mostly empty Mariotti Gym on Thursday night, LaGrange College’s men’s basketball team kept the scoreboard operator busy on the way to a 97-78 victory in its season opener.
The Panthers are coming off a disappointing 7-19 season, and they’re looking forward to getting things headed in a different direction this year.
“They were eager to play,” said LaGrange College head coach Kendal Wallace. “They’re in the gym working all the time they can. They’re trying to right the ship so to speak.”
In a normal season, the Panthers would have played their first game in November, but everything has been pushed back because of Covid-19.
The Panthers finally got an opportunity to play, and they savored the opportunity to be on the court again, even if they had to perform without any fans.
“It was so much fun,” said senior post player Lincoln Anderson, who scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. “We’ve been practicing and grinding, and we’ve been saying once we get our shot, we’re going to do what we have to do to get the win. It feels amazing just to be back out there playing, playing with my teammates, the people who I practice with every single day, the people who I hang out with around campus. It was amazing to go out there and play the game that we all love, and just have fun.”
The Panthers had their way with the Hawks on the offensive end, coming within one 3-pointer of putting 100 points on the board.
Ronald Youngblood led the Panthers with 23 points while making five 3-pointers, and he scored 18 of his points in the first half.
Anderson was 7-of-10 from the field while scoring 20 points, Julian Cameron added 18 points and was 8-of-8 from the free-throw line, Kyle Brown contributed 12 points, and Bershard Edwards chipped in with 10 points.
The Panthers made 54 percent of their shot attempts for the game, and they were 24-of-25 from the free-throw line.
“We did a real good job,” Wallace said. “We have five guys in double figures and we shot our free throws very well. I’d like to see us make a few more layups and not turn the ball over so much, and if we do that I think we’ll be OK.”
The Panthers came close to delivering a knock-out punch in the first half when they surged to a 50-28 lead.
Offensively, the Panthers were lethal, making 69 percent of their shot attempts, and they were 7-of-10 on 3-point tries.
Youngblood was unstoppable in the first half, converting 7-of-8 shot attempts including four 3-pointers while scoring 18 points.
The Hawks tried to make a game of it in the second half.
What was a 22-point halftime lead for the Panthers was down to 12 points when Anderson scored and was fouled, and he made a free throw to complete the three-point play and push the lead to 62-47 with 13:28 left in the game.
The Panthers pulled away from there, with a Youngblood basket extending the lead to 74-54 with 9:35 remaining.
The Panthers led by at least 19 points the rest of the way, and Anderson put an exclamation point on the victory with a break-away dunk with 1:40 remaining to make it a 94-72 game.
The only suspense late was if the Panthers would reach 100 points, and while they didn’t hit that mark, the night was nonetheless an unqualified success.
LaGrange College and Huntingdon will play again on Saturday, and the rematch will be in Montgomery, Ala.
“You have to get back to the drawing board tomorrow, but again, if we can cut down on our turnovers and get better at rebounding, I think we’ll have a good shot at winning a bunch of games,” Wallace said.