GALESBURG -- Any frustration the United Township boys' basketball team had on Friday night quickly was masked with an upbeat realization.|
Perhaps this was the night the Panthers reached a turning point.
Left for dead after a forgettable first half, UT valiantly bounced back with a closing performance that sparked hope. The Panthers' 20-point comeback did fall short in a 56-53 Western Big 6 Conference loss to Galesburg at John Thiel Gymnasium, but the ending trumped the result.
"As a coach, you have those moments in the season where you can see the lights come on," UT coach Marc Polite said. "We had our good stretches here, and we got better in certain aspects there. But I'm really starting to feel like the lights came on in the second half. They're realizing how we want them to play and how hard you have to play.
"That was fun to watch."
The Panthers entered halftime with a 30-10 deficit as it went the final 12 minutes without a field goal. Taking the court to start the third quarter, the pride that resonates throughout the program came from its hibernation and rejuvenated the team.
Suddenly, UT had some swagger.
"Coach always tells us to battle," UT junior guard Trevor May said. "That's what we said at halftime. Everybody started battling."
By the time the fourth quarter started, the Panthers (3-14, 1-3 Big 6) were within 37-29. Midway through the frame, the deficit was 45-39 after May buried a 3-pointer.
"We missed free throws, missed a couple layups and traveled a couple times," said Galesburg coach Mike Reynolds, who received a game-high 18 points from Grant Gibson. "We gave them hope. You have a team down 20, you can't give them hope."
What was once a laugher became a nail-biter, with UT shooting 58.5 percent (17-of-29) from the field in the second half. However, the Silver Streaks (11-8, 3-1) stayed in the conference race by holding at least a three-point lead the entire fourth quarter.
One time UT did hold the ball in a one-possession game, but May missed a runner in the lane as the Silver Streaks led 53-50 with 30 seconds left.
Galesburg converted three of its four attempts from the foul line in the final 30 seconds to secure the win.
"We don't go out and lay down for anybody," Polite said. "That doesn't need to be said a whole lot to our kids because they know that. I knew we would come out swinging."
The Panthers, who had May and Lamont Mitchell each score 11 points, displayed the tenacity Polite said defines this group, but it came with something he had yet to see this year.
"To show fight and execute are two different things," Polite said. "You can fight and lose vision and clarity of what you need to do. But you can also fight and understand exactly what it is you need to do and get it done. This was a moment where we fought like we have in the past, but we executed. We did that a lot better in the second half."
The turning points might have been reached.
"When you're dealing with youth, you have those defining moments where you transition," Polite said. "I'm hoping this is a transition moment for us, that we can really understand what we needed to do and how hard we can play."
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