The Clay Panthers hit their home floor on Friday night, taking on the Green Bobcats.
Green was able to force 18 turnovers, and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds on their way to a 76-48 win.
“We played really good defense,” Bobcats head coach Dirk Hollar said, “Stayed in front of them, boxed out, got out in transition. I think that was the number one thing is we knew we could get out in transition and get some easy buckets.”
Getting the victory wasn’t a cake walk, though.
Clay started the game firing on all cylinders, setting the tone with Chase Hudson on the first possession.
Hudson drove to the basket and was fouled, but finished strong to make the shot for an and-one.
Tanner Kimbler responded for Green, but the Panthers pushed ahead 9-2 on a score from Reece Whitley and back-to-back baskets from Caleb Cline.
Quickly, Hollar took a timeout to talk with his team about an issue that has lingered in the first quarter of every game this season: a slow start.
“Every game it seems like that,” Hollar said. “We come out in the first quarter and we’re down five or six, and tonight it was seven. We’re just shaking our heads, I know this group here and how talented we are and we cannot do that.”
“We said it before the game, we can’t come out and do that. We came out and did it, so I was very angry.”
In the timeout, it was Hollar who was hollering at his players to wake up on the floor.
“I can’t really say what I said,” Hollar said. “I kept it PG-13 I think, but a lot of them got their butt ripped. I think it was kind of a wakeup call for them.”
Back on the court, the Bobcats awoke from their slumber angrily and went right at Clay with a 7-0 run to tie the score at nine apiece.
Gage Sampson, Kimbler, and Tayte Carver scored in a span of 46 seconds to knot the score up for Green.
Cline would respond with a basket to take the lead back, but from there the Bobcats burst ahead with a 15-2 run to take a 24-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
It was the combination of Kimbler and Carver in the opening period, as the two combined for 16 points (nine and seven respectively). Led by the two juniors, Green would not trail in the rest of the game.
In the second, the Panthers pulled closer with two quick scores. Cline scored on the first possession for Clay, and Clay Cottle added another bucket to make the county 24-17.
From there, though, Green once again went on a scoring streak. The Bobcats would outscore the Panthers 16-7 the rest of the way, using a great performance on the offensive glass to create second and third shot opportunities.
“They pounded the ball off the glass and were able to get a lot of rebounds,” Clay head coach Adam Betten said. “They took us out of the game, and hats off to Coach Hollar and their guys. They did a great job.”
Carver had a big second quarter and an all-around great game for Green. At halftime, Carver had 14 points to lead the way for the Bobcats.
The guard would finish with 20 points, seven assists, nine rebounds, and four steals.
At halftime, Green was out in front 40-24.
The Panthers played with poise to start the third quarter, scoring on their first two possessions with free throws from Mason Newton and a made three-pointer from Chase Hudson.
Again though, the Bobcats would break out on a big run.
A 13-0 span from Green put the Bobcats out in front 55-29 before Clay could cease the scoring streak with another three from Hudson.
A big third quarter from Kimbler put Green up 62-35 after three quarters. Kimbler scored 13 points, sinking three three-pointers in the third.
Kimbler would finish with a team-high 23 points, four assists, five rebounds, and four steals.
“They came out and played extremely well,” Betten said about the Bobcats. “They shot the ball well, credit to them. Tanner Kimbler and Tayte [Carver] put the ball in the hole.”
Several younger players saw action in the final quarter, but it was the play of senior Rylee Maynard that impressed Hollar.
Late in the fourth, Maynard raced a Clay player for a loose ball. Running out of space, Maynard dove to save the ball and attempted to throw the ball off the Panthers player, but the officials gave the ball to Clay.
“We’re up 25 and he sprints down the court and knocks the ball off [a Clay player’s] leg,” Hollar said. “They got the ball, but the fact that you see a senior do that puts a smile on my face.”
For the Panthers, freshman Shaden Malone scored his first varsity points in the quarter. Malone wound up scoring six points on the night.
Junior Jared Conkel also knocked down a three-pointer for Clay as the game wound down. Cottle also scored for the Panthers.
“Those guys are going to be players,” Betten said. “They’ve got to step up and see those minutes, so they’ve got to be ready when it’s time.”
Green also got to see several younger players see the floor.
Levi Singleton hit a three-pointer, and Troy Otworth got in the score column as well. Ethan Huffman hit a free throw late in the contest as well.
“It’s good to see the younger kids get some playing time and get some confidence,” Hollar said.
When it was all said and done, the Bobcats came out on top 76-48. It was a complete performance for Green, particularly on defense.
“We were very happy with how we played defensively, and that’s what I’ve been stressing since the beginning of the year,” Hollar said.
Green (3-0, 2-0 in SOC I) will take on Ironton St. Joe’s on Saturday.
“They are very well coached and they’re going to get after us,” Hollar said about the challenge with St. Joe’s.
Clay (0-4, 0-2 in SOC I) is set to travel to Manchester on Saturday.
“That’s going to be another tough game,” Betten said. “It’s a road game, it’s a tough conference that they play in and they play a bunch of big schools. They’re going to be ready to play.”
Though the Panthers have struggled to start the season, they have the talent to turn things around if they can clean up a few problems they’ve demonstrated.
“We’ve just got to make plays and continue to take care of the ball, and we have to defend and rebound,” Betten said. “That’s just something we’re not doing right now.”
“The effort was there for the most part, we just have to continue to get better.”
Green 24 16 22 14 76
Clay 13 11 11 13 48
Tanner Kimbler 23 points
Tayte Carver 20 points
Chase Hudson 13 points
Caleb Cline 12 points
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer