TUSCOLA — Emotion regularly is evident in actions executed by members of the Paxton-Buckley-Loda boys’ basketball team.
Shouts of joy.
Yes, those all are positive exclamations. Easy to produce when you’re 15 games over .500.
Make it 16 now as the Panthers’ defense dismantled Class 2A No. 8 Tuscola on the Warriors’ home floor, 56-39 on Friday night.
“Our kids have fight,” PBL coach Adam Schonauer said. “They wanted this game after getting beat in the Holiday Hoopla, and they came out (and) played like they’re one of the best teams in the state.”
That prior loss came in the late-December Monticello tournament, at which Tuscola defeated Schonauer’s group 45-39 in the championship game.
No such outcome was occurring Friday. The Panthers (19-3) held the Warriors (18-2) to their lowest scoring output of the season, matched in Tuscola’s only other setback — versus 1A No. 3 Central A&M on Jan. 21.
That statistic was firmly in the bag with 1 minute, 42 seconds remaining, at which time PBL senior Trey VanWinkle and the Panthers’ other starters checked out of the nonconference game.
VanWinkle, the last guy to the bench after hitting 1 of 2 free throws, bellowed out a “Let’s go!” as applause rained down from the PBL faithful.
“That was a great feeling,” said VanWinkle, who finished with a team-best 14 points. “We knew this was going to be a hard game coming in.”
The Panthers’ full-court pressure kept the Warriors on their toes. The home side committed 13 first-half turnovers, and Division I prospect Jalen Quinn had one shot by halftime. And he wasn’t the only one struggling offensively. Tuscola went into the locker room possessing just 11 points and trailing by 16.
“I did not expect it to go that well,” VanWinkle said, “but it was a really good defensive night, and we wanted this game really bad and I think it helped our defense.”
“They stepped on the court with a little more intensity, a little more hunger to get one back from us,” Tuscola coach Justin Bozarth added. “You can’t get a deficit like that and then expect to exult a bunch of energy.”
The Warriors did find a shooting groove in the third quarter’s early stages, trimming their disadvantage to seven as Quinn and Grant Hardwick capitalized when Tuscola’s defense began speeding up PBL’s movements.
A timeout with 5:12 left in that period appeared to reset the Panthers, though, and their edge was back to 14 less than two minutes later.
“We’ve got to be able to sustain runs,” Bozarth said, “and unfortunately they made a lot more runs than what we did.”
PBL also boasted more offensive balance than the Warriors.
Quinn was the lone Tuscola player in double figures with a game-high 16 points. Ben Dixon accumulated six of his seven points in the opening quarter, Hardwick generated all eight of his points in the third frame and Jacob Kibler piled up six of his eight points in the final stanza.
The Panthers’ counter-punch: Seven players with at least five points each. VanWinkle was joined in double digits by Colton Coy (12 points), and both Drake Schrodt and Dalton Busboom landed seven points.
The tempo was set when guards VanWinkle and Gavin Coplea (six points) each dashed inside for a bucket apiece during the opening eight minutes, while forwards Coy and Busboom both connected from beyond the arc.
“We wanted to do better against their ball-screen defense,” Schonauer said. “We were trying to spread them out and create some driving lanes, and our guys did a good job of taking care of the ball and sharing it and knocking down some shots.”
VanWinkle and Jarred Gronsky (five points) also took turns harassing the Warriors’ main ball-handler in Quinn as he tried to cross halfcourt, leading to long, floating passes and a disjointed attack.
And when the final buzzer sounded, Schonauer even joined PBL’s show of emotion — albeit with a silent and subtle fist pump.
“That’s a big tone-setter,” VanWinkle said. “That’s a really good team, and it feels really, really good to beat them.”