The Litchfield Purple Panthers learned Friday night, Dec. 20, that it is not how you start but how you finish as they would fall to the host school Staunton 44-34.
In the South Central Conference showdown, the Purple Panthers would grab an early 14-2 lead, but the Bulldogs would fire back, heating up the gym by shooting 51.6 percent from the field.
The Bulldogs would get on the scoreboard early in the contest as they would score off the opening tip for a 2-0 lead. Staunton could not find a bucket in the next four minutes as the Purple Panthers would only allow Staunton to have five looks at the basket, including the successful basket to start the game.
While the Purple Panthers' defense held the Bulldogs at bay in the opening minutes, the offense would come out of the gate on fire, shooting 75 percent from the field and only missing two shots in eight attempts.
The offensive success would allow the Purple Panthers to put up 14 unanswered points during the Bulldogs' scoring drought, giving Litchfield a 14-2 lead with 3:36 to play in the opening quarter.
Just when it seemed the Purple Panthers were in the driver's seat, the wheels began to fall off for Litchfield. Austin Niehaus completed the old fashioned three point play with 3:36 left to play in the quarter and that would be the last basket of the quarter for Litchfield.
The cold streak would switch sides of the court now as the Purple Panthers would only be able to put up five more shots in the quarter and would be unsuccessful on all of those attempts.
The Bulldogs on the other hand would narrow the Purple Panthers' lead to one point on a 13-0 run that would end the quarter. During that run the Bulldogs would miss one shot in five attempts. The Panthers would hold on to the one point lead, 14-13, as the quarter would come to a close.
After a quarter of two different results the Purple Panthers would look to put together a complete second quarter. The Bulldogs would get the lead back in the opening minutes of the quarter as they outscored the Purple Panthers 4-2. The two point swing would give the Bulldogs a lead, 17-16, for the first time since the first few seconds of the contest.
The Purple Panthers would regain that lead before the quarter would come to a close as Litchfield would outscore Staunton 4-2 in the final two minutes of the half. The Purple Panthers would get the last basket of the half when Cameron Crow connected on a rebounded shot attempt with 0.1 seconds on the clock. The shot would give the Purple Panthers a 20-19 lead at the half.
The first half would be a tail of two quarters as both the Purple Panthers and the Bulldogs would struggle from the field in the second quarter, after a successful first quarter. Blaine Stewart would lead the Purple Panthers in scoring with seven first half points, followed by Anthony Boston, who put in six points.
After holding the lead only twice in the first half, the Bulldogs would look to take over the lead for the third time as the second half began. Staunton would use a commanding third frame to grab that lead once again as they would outscore the Purple Panthers 14-4 in that quarter.
Anthony Boston would get his tenth point of the game as he netted the four points that Litchfield would score in the quarter.
The Purple Panthers have struggled throughout the year in the third quarter as that quarter is the lowest scoring quarter for Litchfield and the lowest quarter when it comes to shooting percentage. Shooting only 32 percent on the year in the third quarter, the Purple Panthers would only shoot 25 percent in the quarter in this contest. The lack of scoring would haunt the Purple Panthers, but the Bulldogs' hot hand in the quarter would be a bigger threat for Litchfield.
The Bulldogs would only miss two shots in the quarter as they held a 33-24 lead after three quarters of action.
In the final frame Lichfield would get the deficit down to four points as they would outscore Staunton 6-2 to start the quarter. Blaine Stewart would get all six points for the Purple Panthers as he connected on two three-point field goals. With the hot hand of Stewart, the Purple Panthers would trail the Bulldogs 35-30 with over six minutes to play in the contest.
The five point deficit would be as close as Litchfield would come from overtaking the lead. The Bulldogs would use the final six minutes of the contest to outscore Litchfield 9-4 and claim a South Central Conference victory. The 44-34 loss would give the Purple Panthers their first South Central Conference loss, dropping their conference record to 1-1 and their overall record to 5-5 overall.
Blaine Stewart would lead Litchfield in the scoring column with 13 points and would be followed by Anthony Boston's 10 points. Even though the Bulldogs' hot hand helped create the victory, Staunton would also lead in a few categories including scoring eight points on transition while the Purple Panthers missed their attempts during transition.
Staunton would also lead in points off of turnovers as they would put in 22 points off of 24 turnovers created, while Litchfield would score seven points off of 24 turnovers created.
Litchfield was originally scheduled to play Williamsville on Dec. 23, but a scheduling conflict forced the cancellation of that game.
The Purple Panthers will enjoy a holiday break as their next contest will be in the Carlinville Holiday Tournament against Calhoun on Thursday, Dec. 26. Litchfield will also battle Carlinville on Friday and Hillsboro on Saturday before entering in crossover games on Monday, Dec. 30.
December 20 at Staunton
Litchfield 14 6 4 10 34
Staunton 13 6 14 11 44
Litchfield (34) - Blaine Stewart 13, Anthony Boston 10, Austin Niehaus 7, John Corso 2, Cameron Crow 2. Totals: 12 1-5 34.
Staunton (44) - Brent Kinder 17, Devin Ray 11, Ethan Booth 6, Frank Goss 6, Jacob Futrell 2, Kyle McCalla 2. Totals: 16-31 8-17 44.
Three-point field goals: Litchfield 3 (Stewart 3); Staunton 4 (Ray 2, Goss 2).
Records: Litchfield (5-5, 1-1); Staunton (4-2, 1-1).