Panthers claw, slip against Tigers

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Friday night the bleachers held more bodies, the energy felt more electric, and the overall attitude in Raymore-Peculiar’s basketball gym was a little more optimistic. It was the school’s Courtwarming and senior night as they hosted Lee’s Summit High School (16-6). The Panthers (6-17) weren’t ready to lose their tenth-straight game in front of what was probably the biggest student section of the year.

Unfortunately for the home team (and the home crowd), the Tigers took the edge early on and used their first half advantage to earn the victory.

Ray-Pec fought hard, though, as seniors Joshua Fultz, Keith Seultz, and Jordan Hill saw their first starts of the year. Senior Jason Wilson and junior Ben Harris rounded out the starting five and Harris — though always a presence in the paint — had his best game of the year, achieving a double-double, consisting of eleven points and 13 rebounds.

Harris’ strong play in the lane kept the Panthers within striking distance in the second half, as the junior’s ability to grab offensive rebounds transitioned into easy points. He scored Ray-Pec’s first points of the game on an offensive rebound put-back and he did it again twice in the fourth quarter, taking a charge as well to fire up his team.

After Harris got Raymore-Peculiar on the board, seniors Wilson and Fultz put in a pair of layups before sophomore Nick Janssen sank a three-pointer, giving the home team what would be their only lead of the game, a 9-8 advantage.

A pair of free throws by Janssen and Cole Kruse’s three-point play gave the Panthers 14 points at the end of the quarter to Lee’s Summit’s 21.

Four different players scored points for Ray-Pec in the second period; unfortunately, they just scored two poins each. Janssen, Harris, Jason Chambers, and James Sappington all cashed in for the home squad, but a 6-0 run by the Tigers in the middle of the quarter extended their lead to eleven. The point spread stayed right there as teams headed to the locker room.

Junior Ben Harris (45) came up huge for Ray-Pec Friday night, scoring 11 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.

Junior Ben Harris (45) came up huge for Ray-Pec Friday night, scoring 11 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.

Positively, the Panthers were able to control the ball better in this game. Earlier in the season when Ray-Pec traveled to Lee’s Summit, the Tigers were able to take advantage of turnovers committed, allowing them to win by 18 points. This time around, Raymore-Peculiar only turned the ball over seven times in the first half — a major improvement over earlier performances.

The Panthers also shot 5-for-5 from the free throw line in the first half and 11-for-13 overall. Rebounding was not a major issue either, as Harris and Sappington did well to control the boards.

Shots from the field were the main shortcoming in this game for Ray-Pec. The Panthers do not get as many shot attempts per game as some schools, as their play often consists of slowing down the tempo and running set plays. Lee’s Summit, on the other hand, very much relied on the shooting ability of their guards, namely Drew Lock, who also happens to be the starting quarterback for the Tigers’ football team.

Lock has an offer (among others) from the University of Missouri to play football and rivals.com reports that he made a trip to the university just a couple of weeks ago. The junior only had basketball on his mind Friday night, though, as he sunk 3 three-pointers in the first quarter alone, steadying the pace for his talented team.

As the teams came out for the second half, Harris sunk a layup to get his team going. Sophomore Sappington followed up with a five-foot floater, the beginning of his seven-point quarter. After the eight minute period, the home team was able to cut the lead by two points and Lee’s Summit led 46-37.

In the fourth, Harris got Ray-Pec started with an offensive put-back, scoring first just as he did at the beginning of the first and third quarters. Those points would be the only ones the Panthers could muster for nearly three minutes, however, as a pair of Nate Janssen free throws narrowed the score to 52-41 in the Tigers’ favor.

As the clock wound down it was becoming apparent that the game was not going to turn around for Raymore-Peculiar, though they had opportunity to do so. Late three-pointers by Wilson and Nick Janssen were merely consolation prizes in the 62-53 loss.

The loss was Ray-Pec’s tenth in a row and their conference record has dropped to 0-8 as of Friday night. Fortunately, the Panthers have two winable games before they host Districts. Raymore-Peculiar will face off against Lee’s Summit North on Tuesday night and travel to Blue Springs on Friday night. If the Panthers could must out a pair of wins to close out the regular season, they will undoubtedly have confidence heading into the final tournament of the year.

Ray-Pec is seeded third in their District, where they will match up against Rockhurst (11-13). Lee’s Summit West is by far the favorite to win the tourney, they are 19-3.

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