By Ed Greif
A capacity crowd at Stone Memorial High School saw the Panthers' season end, as they dropped their substate match-up to the Blackman Blaze 69-55 in the weather-delayed Class AAA contest.
"Blackman was the most athletic team we played all year. They are very coached. Coach Barry Wortman does a fantastic job with that team. They took care of the basketball and played aggressive defense," said Panther Coach Neil Capps. "My team fought hard and played their guts out all season long. I was so proud of their effort. They were a great group of kids."
The Panthers roared out to an 11-3 lead on the strength of three treys — two by Tyler Yoder and one by Justin Simmons, but the much quicker Blaze found their mark to outscore the Panthers 14-6 to knot the score at 17-17 by quarter's end.
Yoder buried three treys in the first frame for SMHS, which was five of 12 from the field, including four of six from long-range. Simmons added five points, while Brandon Thomas was two for two from the charity stripe.
Reid Pierce had six points for the Blaze, who were eight of 14 from the field with one turnover.
A lay-up by Simmons regained the lead for the Panthers at 19-18 with under 7:30 left in the half, but a jump by Andrew Rogan started an 9-0 run to retake the lead at 27-19 with 5:01 remaining in the half.
Seven more points by Simmons and a lay-up by Luke Matthews rallied the Panthers to within three points (31-28), but a jumper by Pierce put the Blaze ahead 33-28.
With the five point advantage, the Blaze slowed the offense to the dismay of the SMHS student body, who shouted, "boring, boring, boring..."
Isiah Hart converted the first of two free throws in the waning seconds to give the Blaze a 34-28 lead at the break.
Simmons had 14 points and seven rebounds for the Panthers in the first half, who were nine of 19 from the field with eight rebounds and five turnovers. The Blaze burned the nets for 15 of 26 with three turnovers and controlled the offensive backboards for second and third shorts.
Blackman continued their torrid shooting, hitting eight of 12 from the field to outscore the Panthers 17-7 in the third quarter for a 51-37 advantage. Matthews had five points for SMHS, who was three of nine from the field with three turnovers.
Four points apiece by Jaun Jennnings, Lukas Hart, Rogan and Pierce helped the Blaze match the Panthers 18-18 to post the 69-55 victory to earn a berth in the Class AAA state tournament next week at MTSU.
Simmons fouled out with 29.8 seconds left in the and left to a standing ovation by the Panther faithful. At that point, too, Yoder, Matthews and Thomas left to the standing ovation. Taylor Orme, Frank Heilmeier, Mitch Ball and Collin Russell finished out the game.
Leading the way for the Panthers were Spence (one point, one rebound, one assist), Yoder (15 points, one rebound, one steal), Thomas (two points), Simmons (28 points, nine rebounds, two assists, one steal) and Matthews (eight points, one rebound, three assists,one steal).
For the game, SMHS was 16 of 37 from the field, including eight of 14 from beyond the arc, and 15 of 20 from the charity stripe with 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals. The Blaze were 29 of 48 from the field and six of seven from the charity stripe with seven turnovers.