BY JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — RUSSIAVILLE — Although Western suffered a 62-59 loss to visiting Twin Lakes Saturday night, the Panthers showed the type of grit and perseverance that could pay dividends down the road.
Struggling from the field all night and down by nine with 20.8 seconds to play at 62-53, the Panthers nearly clawed even before the final buzzer sounded.
Twin Lakes hit 13 of its first 15 free-throw attempts through the first 7:40 of the fourth quarter after spending the entire period in the bonus. But the Indians missed their last five freebies, and Western’s Des Balentine made them pay.
Balentine hit a pull-up 3 from the top of the key with 17.1 seconds left to pull Western within 62-56. Coming out of a timeout, the Panthers fouled again, where Twin Lakes couldn’t convert on either end of the double bonus.
Balentine again pulled up from the right wing and buried another triple to make it 62-59 with 9.8 seconds to play.
Twin Lakes again missed both free throws after a foul with 7.2 seconds left. Balentine got the ball on the right wing on the other end with three seconds to play, but his contested 3-point attempt hit the front of the rim and rolled off as the buzzer sounded.
“I’m very proud of our guys,” Western coach Bart Miller said. “We could’ve folded up shop there down nine, but our guys didn’t. They stuck to the gameplan as far as getting down the floor quick and getting a two or 3. We were able to knock down a couple 3s there and stop the clock, and got it down to three. We got a look at the end, but it just didn’t fall.”
The Panthers (8-5), stayed within striking distance despite a sub-par shooting night from the field (20 for 54 overall, 11 for 29 from 3). They were just 8 of 24 in the first half, but hit 6 of 14 from 3-point range to stay within 28-25 at the half after trailing 15-9 at the first stop.
Twin Lakes wasn’t much better at 17 for 41 from the floor, but 21 Western fouls turned into a 24-for-31 performance from the foul line for the Indians, including a 14-for-20 clip in the fourth quarter.
“It was just a slow start by our guys,” Miller said. “You have to give Twin Lakes credit for that slow start. They’re a physical ball club that’s well-coached. It wasn’t a good night shooting for us all around. We were a little stagnant on offense, standing around a lot and doing a lot of exchanging rather than screening and cutting. Our guys will learn from it and adjust, and go from there.”
Western took its first lead of the night at 38-36 with 3:02 left in the third on a Balentine steal and breakaway layup, but Twin Lakes clawed back ahead, 44-43, headed into the fourth. The squads traded the lead a pair of times to start the fourth, but the Indians led for the final 5:43.
Senior Evan Warden led Western with 19 points, and now stands at 896 points for his career. Balentine added 14 points for the Panthers.
Cameron Bennington paced Twin Lakes (9-5) with 21 points, and Tanner Pritts added 16.
FINAL Twin Lakes 62 Western 59 Next: Western hosts Maconaquah Tuesday.