Last-second heartbreaker Panthers fall to Murphy in regional final, 50-48
Pinckneyville's outstanding season came to a heartbreaking end Friday in the regional finals at Murphysboro as the Panthers fell to the host Red Devils 50-48.
Having won on a buzzer-beater two weeks ago at home against rival Nashville for a share of the SIRR Mississippi division conference title, the Panthers found themselves on the losing end of a buzzer-beating finish by home team Murphysboro, who came into the final with a share of the SIRR Ohio division conference title to their credit.
The full-house crowd at Memorial Gym was split between Panther Blue and Murphy Crimson, all come to witness the clash of conference champions for the regional title.
While the game came down to the Red Devils' final shot, the Panthers had to play uphill for the majority of the game. The Panthers' only lead of the game was at 2-0 as Grant Tanner hit the first field goal of the game in the first minute of play. The two teams were tied three times during the first frame, at 6, 9 and 11, then one more time in the game on Dawson Yates' 3-pointer with under 10 seconds to play in the 4th quarter.
When Murphysboro made a free throw to end the first quarter at 12-11, they led throughout the contest until Yates tied it at 48.
After Tanner's scoring start, Dré Scott scored a field goal and two free throws to bring back the Panthers to the first tie at 6. Moments later Yates tied the game on a 3-pointer, after Murphy had scored on a three-point play. Early foul trouble plagued the Panthers as Scott and Devin Kitchen were whistled early for two apiece, with each player spending time out of the game.
The Devils kept the Panthers out of sync early and for most of the game, and their quickness and tight defense compromised the Panthers' usual deadly outside shooting. Yates scored on a baseline drive for the final Panther points and last tie of the 1st quarter at 11-11.
Missed free throws and turnovers started the Panthers' 2nd quarter until Yates scored to cut Murphy leads to 16-13 and 18-15 when he hit two free throws. The teams hit back-and-forth 3-pointers with Yates hitting one for a 19-18 score, and Hunter Riggins hit one after Murphy countered with theirs so the lead stayed at one 22-21. Murphy scored before Yates hit one of two free throws at 24-22, but the Red Devils hit the final shot of the half for a 26-22 lead.
The Panthers missed on their first opportunities of the 3rd quarter before Scott broke through with a free throw, but Murphy built their biggest lead at nine points, 32-23, and then 34-25 with Yates' two free throws the only Panther points.
The Panthers' press turned the momentum, as Scott scored on two straight possessions and Riggins on another for a 6-0 run and a 34-31 score to end to the 3rd.
Scott opened the 4th quarter with a steal and driving layup to cut the deficit to 34-33. Yates kept the Panthers close with two free throws after being fouled on a drive to the basket, 36-35. After the Panthers missed on three chances close to the basket, the Red Devils took advantage and opened leads of 42-36 and 44-39 before a final back-and-forth, then the last Panther run. Still, Yates' free throws kept the Panthers close.
Kitchen, who had set the Panther single-game record of eight 3-pointers in the semifinal game on Tuesday against Sparta, made his only one in the final at 1:57 to draw the Panthers to within 44-42. After the Red Devils hit a 3-pointer for a 47-42 lead, the Panthers missed a shot and fouled to send Murphy to the line, and one of two shots later, the lead was 48-42. Yates hit one of two also for 48-43.
The Panthers caught a big break and took advantage of a Murphy intentional foul against Tanner, who hit two free throws for a 48-45 score with 23.6 seconds to play. Yates controlled the ball for the Panthers and drove to the top of the key for his game-tying 3-pointer at 48 with under 10 seconds to play. Panther Blue erupted.
The Blue was silenced in disbelief seconds later by the game-ending, season-ending driving layup for Murphysboro to claim the win and the Regional crown.
Coach Bob Waggoner gave Murphysboro much credit for the win, for their quickness and ability to pressure the Panthers and play the game that they wanted to play. Uncharacteristic missed opportunities to score and to make key plays were important factors in leading to the Panthers' loss.
Though disappointed, the Panthers have many reasons to celebrate their 28-4 season. The team had a share of the SIRR conference title, and three tournament championships: the Kaskaskian Classic at Carlyle; the Duster Thomas Hoops Classic at home; and the midwinter Benton Invitational.
The season also included the record-breaking performances of Dawson Yates topping the 1,500 point mark -- only the second player in Panther history to do so -- to finish in second place on the all-time Panther scoring list behind Shane Hawkins.
Devin Kitchen broke the record for most 3-point shots made in a game -- his eight topped a record that stood for nearly 30 years. As well, Coach Waggoner reached the milestone of 300 victories as Panther head coach.
Another bright spot is Panther senior Noah Carter, who advanced in the 3-Point Showdown and will compete at the Sectional tournament at Hamilton County this coming week.