BARTONVILLE -- The United Township boys' basketball team got a progress report Saturday night in the form of a rare nonconference rematch.|
True to coach Marc Polite's impressions the past two months, the youthful Panthers have improved greatly from their season-starting, 19-point loss to veteran-laden Bartonville Limestone in the Galesburg Thanksgiving Tournament.
However, this weekend's follow-up, a 67-59 setback at the Rockets' Vern Woosley Gymnasium, also showed why "East Mo'' continues to receive an incomplete grade from its "teacher.''
"Without a doubt, we've seen great growth since the last time we played these guys,'' Polite said after the feisty Panthers cut a 24-point third-quarter deficit to nine with four minutes remaining.
"But we still have got to get over that hump. We keep getting closer and closer but we can't quite get there. We miss a timely shot here, we turn it over there, we don't get that stop we need. Until we're able to do those things, we won't be all the way there.''
This time, three straight turnovers stopped UT's late push before the contest turned into the inevitable free-throw shooting contest.
Deveric Rogers nailed a 3-pointer at the game-ending buzzer to allow the visitors to finish as close as they'd come since Limestone (14-8) used an early 14-0 run for a 22-4 lead with 1:21 left in the first quarter.
"The trend of the games was pretty similar. They jumped out on us pretty quickly again,'' Polite said comparing the Limestone contests.
"Once we got settled down, and understood what they were going to do, we did a much better job of taking those easy baskets away. But once you dig yourself a 20-point hole, against a good veteran team, it's tough to overcome that.''
However, more than slow starts have been a trait of these senior-less Panthers (3-18).
"Like we've been saying all year, we have a game group here,'' Polite said. "These guys play hard no matter what. We could have easily said, `We're down 20, we're on the road, it's Saturday and we got back from Quincy late.' We could have given up and been out of here a half-hour earlier. But we fought.''
Polite pointed to efforts by juniors Raymond Terronez and Keegan Wenskunas, plus sophomore Lamont Mitchell.
Wenskunas came off the bench for a team-leading 15 points, dropping a trio of 3-point shots.
Also in a reserve role, Terronez added 11 points, seven rebounds and a pair of blocks.
Mitchell chipped in 12 points and a game-best 10 rebounds.
"We're getting better and seeing more and more basketball plays from these guys,'' Polite said. "We're not struggling to make basic basketball plays now. We're not just dribbling the ball off our foot.
"Now we're making good passes, hitting contested shots, finishing at the rim and playing good defense. We just have to do it more consistently, for four quarters, if we're going to beat the good teams we have on our schedule.''
Hank Mathews led four Rockets into double figures with a game-high 17 points. Limestone's pressure defense forced 22 turnovers, including a game-high seven steals by backcourt running mate Lorenzo Burns (11 points).
"Limestone is the kind of good, veteran team that makes you better,'' Polite said. "To go to (Western Big 6 Conference leader) Quincy and then Limestone in the same weekend, on back-to-back nights with a young team doesn't help the win-loss record right now, but it makes us better in the long run.''
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