Lost in the excitement of Whitmer’s historic 2011-12 basketball season was a revelation that belies conventions of how successful teams are built.
The Panthers could not shoot.
Buoyed by stout interior play that featured two future college football lineman, and an ample supply of suffocating defense everywhere else, the need to knock down deep shots was not a prerequisite for the Panthers advancing to the state title game. This year’s squad, which improved to 6-1 on Thursday in a 55-49 home win over Perrysburg, is constructed quite differently.
Sensing it would be impossible to replicate last year’s success with a similar formula, coach Bruce Smith encouraged his players over the offseason to put up an extraordinary number of shots in open gym sessions. The added work has paid off, particularly on Thursday in a battle of previous one-loss teams when the Panthers drained eight 3-pointers to solve a tricky Perrysburg zone.
"We’re probably a better 3-point shooting team than we’ve been in quite a while," Smith said. "We really emphasized that over the last year."
Ricardo Smith and Luke Hickey, both of whom started on last year’s team that compiled a 24-3 record that since has been vacated, are the center of coach Smith’s concentration on making shots. Smith buried all four of his 3s, including one at the end of the third that swelled the lead to 13, and scored a team-high 15 points. Hickey converted three times from long distance — all in the first half — and posted 11 points.
In the fall, as the Panthers football team was making its run to the state title game, Hickey, Smith, and Nigel Hayes headed a group of players that put up 250 3s three days a week over seven weeks.
"You have a lot of soreness in the forearm," Hickey said.
Consecutive 3s in the second quarter by Smith and Hickey expanded the lead to 26-19, and the Panthers never trailed again on a night in which they were sloppy with the ball. The Yellow Jackets forced 15 turnovers, seven of which they parlayed into easy lay ups or dunks.
Guard Shane Edwards, who led Perrysburg with 20 points, was responsible for four of them, including one that cut the deficit to 49-46 with 2 minutes, 50 seconds to go.
"I was very disappointed the way we handled the ball," coach Smith said. "I think we gave them between 14 and 18 points on run outs that we can’t guard. If you take those out, they’re in the low 30s, and I’m very content with that."
Relentless zone pressure helped Perrysburg climb out of a 13-point hole in the second half.
"I thought at times our pressure was very productive tonight," Perrysburg coach Dave Boyce said. "We intelligently went after the ball when we had the chance and we guarded the basket pretty well, too."
Down by nine to start the fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets cut the lead to 51-49 with less than two minutes to play after Matt Kaczinski drilled a 3 from the top of the key. A deliberate Whitmer possession followed, culminating in Hayes (10 points) going to the line and making 1 of 2.
The outcome became clear after Edwards traveled and Whitmer’s Jon Ashe (10 points) responded with an inside bucket to widen the gap to five.
"Our effort was tremendous, our coachability was good, but we had some key possessions where we didn’t have enough poise," Boyce said.
Nick Moschetti led four Perrysburg players with 15 points.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.