Wildcats dealing with adversity

By JOSEPH ELERSON, News-Telegram Sports Writer

Jan. 27, 2008 - PARIS - In their first meeting of the season during the Quinlan Ford Tournament, the North Lamar Panthers defeated Sulphur Springs 49-38 to take the championship of that tournament.

In Round 2, the Panthers (15-9, 3-2) defeated SSHS, 49-35, to wrap up the first round of District 11-4A play at Panther Gymnasium.

"I thought our guys played pretty well," said Sulphur Springs first-year coach Braughn Curtis. "A couple of our guys got in situations they have never been in the whole year due to losing two guys to grades and a lot of other stuff that we are dealing with right now. I thought the guys played with great effort and they tried their best."

The Wildcats are now 14-14 overall and 0-5 in district and dealing with a seven-game losing streak dating back to Jan. 5. The Wildcats have also lost 12 of their last 15 games.

"It is frustrating, and that is how I feel about it right now," the coach said. "I feel for my guys because they play hard, and I want them to win more than anything. We are pouring our hearts and our lives into what we are doing and it is not happening for us."

In the first quarter, Colton Nash and Jonathan Lee scored all eight of the Wildcats' points as they trailed 11-8 heading into the second quarter. Lee gave them their first lead of the game on a layup on their opening possession, and then Nash gave them their final lead of the game hitting two free throws for a 4-3 lead with 5:12 remaining in the first quarter.

Lee was the team's leading scorer with 13 points, two rebounds and two steals, while Nash recorded a double-double with 10 points, 11 rebounds, one steal and one block.

Curtis said going into the game they knew that Justin Collard and Qualon Fort would be key players to defend for the Wildcats to have a chance to pick up their first district win.

For the most part, the Wildcats held them in check as Collard finished with 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting, while Fort added 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting. Collard shot 3-of-12 in the first half, while Fort went 3-for-4 but was dealing with foul trouble throughout the game.

"I thought we played great defense on them, and they got a couple of plays on us defensively," Curtis said. "Offensively is where I believe we lost the game, because we were not making good decisions and we were forcing it too much tonight."

With 5:10 remaining in the first half, the Wildcats trailed 13-12 on a nice back-door cut by Lee off an assist from Anthony Mills. The Panthers then went on a 6-0 run behind two free throws from Zach Johnson, Collard and Fort.

The Wildcats committed 14 turnovers in the first half, and Curtis said turnovers and free throws played a role in the outcome of the game.

"We made 14 turnovers early on and those turnovers hurt us. We were trying to establish our offense and get the ball inside, and we are making bad decisions with the ball," Curtis said.

"If we make our free throws, maybe we are in the game or have the lead and then we have control of the game. We need to get the ball inside to Nash, Lee and Jackson and shoot balls that are two feet away from the rim and not 20-feet out."

Sulphur Springs shot 9-of-16 (56.2 percent) from the free throw line, compared to 12-of-17 (71 percent) for the Panthers. SSHS out-rebounded North Lamar, 30-23, with a 10-5 advantage on the offensive glass. Overall, North Lamar shot 18-of-40 (45 percent), compared to 13-of-38 (34.2 percent) for the Wildcats.

With Collard and Fort having an off-night, Patrick Thomas stepped up for the Panthers scoring 13 points and pulling down five rebounds with one steal and one assist as he scored the final points of the first half on an offensive putback for the 23-14 lead.

With the Panthers up 31-23 heading into the fourth quarter, the Wildcats battled back to within five at 38-33 on an offensive putback by Mills and then Lee nailed two free throws with 2:53 remaining for their final points of the game.

Curtis said even with the adversity the team is dealing with in the final two weeks of the season, they are trying to find a way to gain the confidence they had early in the season.

"We lost our best player talent-wise and guard-wise to grades and then we lost another guard to grades, and those are things we are having to deal with," he said. "We are dealing with a lightning bolt here and a lightning bolt there, and we are having to try and recover. It is hard to play with confidence when you don't win basketball games, and that is what we are battling right now."

In the junior varsity game, the Wildcats trailed 24-18 at the half to North Lamar and pulled out a 45-40 come-from-behind win led by Jesse Vasquez with 21 points. The freshmen, meanwhile, lost to North Lamar 42-37.

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