Posted Online: Jan. 05, 2013, 10:41 pm

Another loss, but UT takes defensive strides

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By Steve Tappa, stappa@qconline.com

Marc Polite yelled "cut'' so many times Saturday night, the United Township boys' basketball coach sounded like the director of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Unfortunately, Polite's Panthers proved again to be not-quite-ready-for-Prime-Time players.

Youthful UT clawed as close as five points a couple of times in the fourth quarter, but fell for the 13th time in 16 starts, dropping a 33-24 decision to Pekin and Northwestern signee Nathan Taphorn at the Panther Den.

Both teams hit only 9 of 37 shots from the field, for matching shooting nights of a frigid 24 percent.

UT shot just 9 of 28 in a Friday loss to Peoria Notre Dame, but disappointed Polite with much-less effort defensively.

"We really struggled again offensively,'' Polite said. "We struggled making the extra pass.

"A team like us, we have to work the ball and not be stationary. We have to work the ball around and keep cutting.''

Yet, despite UT suffering through the worst of the offensive lulls, Pekin (11-4) had to score a bucket off a last-minute turnover to force an 8-8 halftime tie with the Panthers (3-13).

However, "East Mo'' went 18 minutes between points -- a full two quarters and then some -- to fall behind 18-10 late in the third frame.

The Panthers not only went scoreless in the second quarter, but didn't score a basket between the 3:06 mark of the first quarter, on a Deveric Rogers jumper, to four seconds remaining in the third quarter, on a Trevor May drive.

"But, Pekin makes you play that way,'' Polite said. "They sag, and they're long and they switch everything, so it's almost like playing against a zone (defense).

"When you have a big guy like (Taphorn), who erases mistakes, and clogs the lane, they just don't let you get many, if any, clean looks inside.

"We got some shots, but we're a confidence team, and when things didn't fall for us early, I thought our kids got gun-shy. That's where we have to be mentally tough to fight through that.''

In the fourth quarter, the Panthers clawed back to within five points on another May drive inside of four minutes, and on a Keegan Wenskunas 3-pointer with 1:04 showing.

However, Pekin hit 7 of 8 free throws in the final minute to close out the comeback.

"To have a high-level Division I player like they have and then make them work as hard as they did for quality shots is a testament to where we're going defensively,'' said Polite, whose club resumes Western Big 6 Conference play Friday at Galesburg.

"I've been there as a player before where you feel nothing is going right offensively. So it's a huge credit to our kids to lock down and focus and play defense like they did.''

May finished with nine points and three assists to pace the Panthers.

Pekin's scoring leaders were Zac Hansen (12 points, nine rebounds) and Taphorn (10 points, seven rebounds on 2-for-10 shooting).