By Beau Wicker
For the Kokomo Tribune
Western’s boys basketball team simply has Logansport’s number.
Even after falling in a quick hole with a short-handed squad, the Panthers found a way to win on the road against the Berries on Friday night.
Western pulled out a 54-52 win over Logansport, its sixth win in the seven tries since the series was started up.
The Panthers (7-3), who recorded their sixth win this season by four points or less, entered the contest knowing big man Ronnie Smith would be out for the game and guard Evan Warden would miss the first half due to suspensions handed out by coach Bart Miller.
But Austin Townsend scored 13 of his 16 points in the first half and Austin Weaver scored all eight of his points in the half to help the Panthers trail just 30-27 at the break after Logan opened with a 13-4 run in the game’s first four minutes.
Warden entered the contest in the second half and quickly made his presence felt as he scored 12 of his 16 points in the third quarter, all on 3-point shots, to keep the Panthers within 43-41 entering the fourth.
“I thought Evan there in the third quarter knocking down those 3s for us was huge,” Miller said. “Logansport went to a zone, and him being able to knock down those 3s was really big to pull them out of it.”
Des Balentine then scored three straight baskets for the Panthers on drives to give Western a 47-43 lead with 3:47 to go.
After Jayson Higgins tied the game for Logan with a 3, Warden scored on a putback and a Townsend basket in the lane gave Western a 51-47 lead with 2:00 remaining.
An Antonio Penny tip-in was answered by a Warden drive and score with 50 seconds left.
Following a missed 3-pointer by Higgins, Townsend was fouled and hit 1 of 2 free throws with :36 left to give Western a 54-49 lead.
Penny drilled a 3-pointer to keep Logan alive and Weaver was fouled with :15 left. He missed the front end of a 1-and-1, which set up a frantic finish. Penny got a good look on a drive but was long with his shot, Nate Bullard rebounded but missed a tip-in attempt and Penny then missed his tip-in, and Western was able to hold on.
“Fortunately, we were able to get a stop down there,” Miller said. “It wasn’t the prettiest — they were able to get two or three shots at the basket — but we contested each and every shot and finally got the rebound and the horn went off for us. That last minute and a half, if we take care of business at the free throw line it’s not that close and it’s not a last-second attempt by them.”
Balentine and Warden combined for 10 points in the fourth quarter to help the Panthers outscore the Berries 13-9 in the frame.
“What’s nice about having both those guys, they can handle the ball, they can get to the rim, and most of the time they make the right decision with the ball,” Miller said.
Townsend finished with a double-double of 16 points and 11 boards for Western. Balentine added 12 points. Warden finished 4 of 5 from 3-point range en route to his 16-point outburst.
Penny led Logan (6-4) with 19 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Higgins had 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range. Bo Bullard added 15 points, and Nate Bullard had 12 rebounds.
Logan shot 52.4 percent from the field to Western’s 44.7 and outrebounded the Panthers 30-27, but Western was 14 of 20 from the foul line compared to Logan’s 1 of 4.
“The difference was they got to the line,” Logan coach Mark Victor said. “They just outplayed us in the fourth quarter. ... We just couldn’t get stops when we needed to get stops.”
Miller said of the two suspensions: “It was a violation of team rules. They’ve learned their lesson. They are ready to compete. They were both great all week in practice knowing what was going on with them. It just shows the leadership and togetherness of this entire unit.”