Whitmer's Tyler Klem (12) drives past Sylvania Southview's Chris Johnson (12).
If they had their choice, the players who contributed much of the output that led to Whitmer's season-opening 53-49 boys basketball victory over visiting Southview Friday night would rather have been preparing for Saturday's Division I state football championship game in Canton.
But that season came to a disappointing end last Saturday with the Panthers' 17-6 state-semifinal loss to Cleveland St. Ignatius, so it was on to the hard court.
SCOREBOARD: Prep basketball results
The imposing 6-7, 6-7, 6-8 front court trio of junior Nigel Hayes, and seniors Chris Wormley and Storm Norton combined for 25 points and 15 rebounds. Senior guard LeRoy Alexander added six points and six boards in the Whitmer win.
All four players started on the Panthers' football team, with Wormley and Norton earning first-team All-Ohio honors.
PHOTO GALLERY: Whitmer tops Southview
"We had four more [points] than they did and that's the bottom line," Whitmer coach Bruce Smith said. "We're pleased with the win, and we also know that we have a lot of work to do."
Hayes had 11 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocked shots to pace Whitmer, and guard Jon Ashe topped the Panthers in scoring with 13 points.
"Six days ago he was playing against one of the best [football] teams in Ohio," Smith said of Hayes. "He's not in basketball shape yet. It's a slow process, but he did a lot of things for us.
"He didn't score as much as he's going to, but he rebounded and blocked a lot of shots, and he was instrumental in our win."
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Wormley and Norton added eight and six points, respectively.
"It's definitely a positive when you get your first win," Wormley said. "A couple of our starters just came off the football field and I thought we handled ourselves very well.
"I think we picked it up pretty well and I can't wait to get back out and practice and prepare for St. John's [next Friday]."
Whitmer shot surprisingly well from the field, considering the lack of basketball practice time, going 22-of-37 for 59 percent. But the Panthers hit only 7-of-20 free throws and seemed to be running on fumes after taking a 44-36 lead into the fourth.
The Panthers actually increased their lead to 11 points (47-36) on an Alexander free throw and a Hayes put-back 30 seconds into the final period.
But that's when Southview's additional basketball conditioning time started to pay off.
The Cougars were led by their own football star, fourth-year varsity starter Allen Gant, who scored 13 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. Guard Joey Vermilya matched Gant with 13 points.
Southview whittled away at the Panther lead and pulled within 47-44 on Gant's three-point play off a rebound with 3:15 remaining in the game.
But Hayes answered with a three-point play of his own 54 seconds later, and Southview got no closer than four down the stretch.
"It was right there," Southview coach Marc Jump said of his team's opportunity. "Overall we're pleased with our effort, and we weren't real pleased with our execution. But we can take a lot from this game."
What plagued the Cougars' comeback bid was poor field-goal shooting. They hit just four of their 19 fourth-quarter shots, continuing their game-long struggles on offense.
Southview — which was outrebounded just 37-31 despite Whitmer's significant height advantage, and forced 21 Panther turnovers — shot just 28 percent (17-of-60) from the field in the game. The Cougars hit seven of their 23 3-point attempts.
"We played hard, which I knew we would do," coach Smith said, "and we got tired, which I knew we would do. But we were able to withstand them [at the end]. They got it down to three [47-44], and I was never comfortable until it said 0:00 [on the game clock]."
Southview led 14-8 after a bucket from Chris Johnson (eight points) with 1:47 left in the first quarter. But Whitmer responded with a 13-0 run over the next 5:14 and led 21-14 on Ashe's layup 4:33 before halftime. The Cougars never regained the lead.
"We gave up some offensive rebounds in the first half but we cleaned that up quite a bit in the second half," Jump said. "We were able to put some pressure on some pretty good guards. For as small as we are, that's something we're going to have to get better at."
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com 419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade.
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