GENESEO — Both the Panthers of United Township and the Geneseo Maple Leafs accentuated their strong starts to the season.
The Panthers defeated Rock Falls by 11 points in the early game of the Geneseo Thanksgiving Shootout, and in the late game, Geneseo held off a fourth quarter surge by the Rockridge Rockets to win by 4, 56-54.
UT 37, Rockridge 26: In the first varsity game of the night, United Township effectively applied its smothering defensive pressure from the opening whistle, holding the Rock Falls Rockets to just 8 for 31 shooting from the field.
“Our defensive intensity was impressive and a major goal of ours coming into the game against Rock Falls,” said UTHS coach Ryan Webber. “As we progress into the season, our guards, Jaylen Rose and Daslah Geadeyan, will be expected to provide leadership in pressuring the ball, creating turnover opportunities, and giving us the chance to pick up some easy baskets.”
UT senior forward Michael Merrick hit back to back 3-pointers in the early stages of the second half to counter the hot shooting from Rock Falls junior Luke Akerman.
After leading by 11 points at the end of the third quarter, the Panthers again applied their trademark defensive pressure to hold off a Rock Falls rally in the fourth quarter that moved the Rockets within four points. UT displayed solid ball control in the final minutes to win by 11, and move to 2-0 on the season.
“Michael hit three big shots from the corner for us in the second half when we needed an offensive push to keep the lead,” said Webber. “We were able to identify several areas of the game to work on in the coming days and weeks, cutting down on our turnovers, and taking control of the boards in key situations, but I was pleased that we were able to finish strong.”
United Township was led by Merrick with 10 points. Malykai Trice added eight points and seven rebounds and Geadeyan had six assists.
Geneseo 56, Rockridge 52: The host team showed the resiliency that coach Brad Storm is working to instill in his team, by holding off the hot shooting of the Rockridge Rockets in the fourth quarter of the Shootout’s final game of the night.
Geneseo led 40-26 heading into the final quarter. Rockridge rallied behind the scorching-hot shooting of sophomore Nate Henry in the final period, where he scored 17 of his 29 points.
Rockridge was able to get within 52-54 with under two minutes to play, but Geneseo countered with tough interior defense and a punctuating slam dunk by Isaiah Rivera to put the game away.
“Rockridge has some very good shooters who were lighting up the scoreboard in the fourth quarter, and it was critical for us to make adjustments in the final minute of play to put the game away,” said Storm. “Overall, our ball movement and defensive pressure was effective, we need to work on positioning and creating opportunities for more than one shot on the offensive end as we transition into Western Big 6 play.”
Rivera exhibited the complete game that has made him a D1 recruit (Colorado State), his 31 points were complimented by seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block.
Rockridge coach Andy Saey was pleased with his team’s late scoring surge, and believes the comeback with help his team to focus on areas of improvement and gain confidence.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but our effort was outstanding, especially when we were down by double digits and able to rally behind exceptional outside shooting,” said Saey. “Considering the fact that one of our starters was out with illness, and another key player suffered a broken nose in the game, our guys displayed a great deal of heart that will help us going forward.”
In addition to Henry, junior Jensen Whiteman contributed 18 points for the Rockets, including 5 three-pointers.
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