RUSSIAVILLE — Western’s boys basketball team picked up its first victory of the 2015-16 season, and boy did the Panthers earn it.
The Panthers scratched and clawed their way back from an eight-point deficit late in the fourth quarter to put the game into overtime, then held off the 2-6 Frankfort Hot Dogs for a thrilling 64-62 win.
Western turned the tables on the Hot Dogs, who won last-year’s meeting 61-58, also in overtime.
“We’re a young team in the process of improving,” Western coach Bart Miller said. “We’ve been pleased with the process and progress of this team and [Saturday] night everybody stepped up. We had two hard games this weekend and [Saturday] we battled end-to-end to get the win.”
It didn’t look good for Western, trailing 51-43 with just :50 left in the game, but the Panthers refused to quit. Josh Beeler hit a short jumper in the lane and Western called a quick timeout. The Panthers forced a quick turnover following the timeout, then Kaleb Howard drove to the basket and was fouled as he made a layup. Howard converted the 3-point play to cut Frankfort’s lead to 51-48.
Frankfort gave Western a break, missing a pair of free throws with 24.8 seconds to go and the Panthers took advantage. Jeff McClung found nothing but the bottom of the net on a long three from the right wing with :18 remaining to tie the score at 51. It was McClung’s first bucket of the game.
Frankfort called timeout to set up a final shot and the Hot Dogs got just what they wanted. 6-7 Carter Taylor got the ball deep inside and went up for what looked like an easy layup. But his game-winning shot was rejected by Howard and McClung ran down the loose ball as the buzzer sounded.
Following a quick bucket in the lane by Brodee Lipinski, the overtime period became a free-throw-shooting contest. Western hit 9 of 12 free tosses in the overtime and never trailed.
Jarrod Smith, who lead all scorers for Frankfort with 26, hit a 3-pointer with 6.2 seconds to go, and got off another at the buzzer that came up short to end the game.
“What can you say about Jeff [McClung] hitting that shot,” Miller said. “And our kids didn’t jump up and down and celebrate, they got back on defense to get a good stop and put the game into overtime.
“Beeler played well throughout the game scoring 23 points, and Cooper [O’Neal] added 15 and demonstrated good decision making all night.”
Howard added nine points and a team-high six rebounds for the 1-5 Panthers.