Just one night removed from a poor showing in their season-opener at Butler County, the Cougar varsity put on a great show in Owensboro as they evened their record at 1-1 with an inspired, 63-59 win over the Daviess County Panthers.
Asked about his Cougars’ night-and-day performances in their first two games, first-year head coach Caleb Smith said, “With a young team, it helps to get one under your belt. I think we were just really shook last night.”
After leading for nearly the entire first half, the Cougars gave up the lead at the start of the third quarter, but came back to take a two-point lead into the fourth quarter. They then used a 9-1 run in the final period of play to seize control, then hit 5-of-6 free throws in the game’s final 29 seconds to ice the win.
After the Panthers took an early 2-0 lead, the Cougars went on a 13-3 run, including two three-pointers from senior Rance Whobrey, to lead 13-5 at the 4:50 mark.
The Panthers closed to within four points of the lead three times in the closing minutes, the last time at 22-18 with 41 seconds left in the period. Whobrey then closed out the first-quarter scoring with a lay-up with 32 seconds left and Grayson County led by six, 24-18 as the second period got started.
The Panthers opened the scoring in the second quarter with a pair of free throws from Dalton Richardson, to make it a four-point game, but the Cougars responded with seven unanswered points to take their largest lead of the night, 11 points at 31-20 with 3:47 left to play.
Unfortunately, the Cougars would not score again in the half, allowing the Panthers to score 11 straight and tie the game 31-31 heading into the half-time intermission.
Tim Bickel opened the third quarter scoring with a three-point play to give the Panthers their first lead since 2-0. When Stephen Boles hit a three-pointer at the 6:19 mark, it completed a 16-1 Daviess County run and gave the Panthers a five-point advantage, 37-32.
The Cougars then answered back, putting together an 8-2 run that put them back in the lead, 40-39 with 2:22 left in the third quarter. Bickel hit 1-of-2 from the line to tie it 40-40 with 1:45 left, but Saltsman buried a 16-footer with 1:28 left and the Cougars were able to take that 42-40 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Cougars then established control by opening the final period with a 9-1 run that put them up by 10 points, 51-41 with 5:16 left to play.
Whobrey hit 1-of-2 at the line to give the Cougars another 11-point lead, 54-43 with 4:11 left, but the Panthers came right back, scoring 10 unanswered points, capped off by Logan O’Bryan’s fifth three-pointer of the night to pull back to within a point, 54-53 with 2:54 left.
Bickel fouled out with 2:05 remaining, sending Saltsman to the line for two shots. As the players were still milling around, a technical foul was called. With the chance to pad the Cougar lead, Saltsman could hit just 1-of-2, then Whobrey could hit just 1-of-2 on the technical to put the Cougars up by just three, 56-53.
Awarded the ball on the technical, the Cougars made it a five-point game when Satlsman scored with 1:40 left. Adam Wilkerson scored with 53 seconds left to make it a two-point game, 58-56.
The Cougars then hit four straight free throws to put them up by six, 62-56 with nine seconds remaining, but Boles buried a three with 3.4 seconds left to cut it back to three points, 62-59.
On the inbounds play, Saltsman was fouled with 2.5 ticks left and hit 1-of-2 to make it a four point game, 63-59. A desperation heave by the Panthers at the buzzer wasn’t close and the Cougars celebrated their win.
O’Bryan led all scorers on the night with 29 points. No one else was in double figures for the Panthers.
The Cougar put three players into double figures, led by Saltsman with 20. Whobrey had 16 points, including four three-pointers,pulled down four rebounds and led the team with three assists. Junior Bret Johnston was the other Cougar in double figures, finishing with 11 points and adding four rebounds and two assists.
Talon Gary scored five points, Braxton Williams had four, and sophomore Wyatt Skaggs added three. Junior Lane Decker and sophomore Lane Rackley had two points each to complete the Cougar scoring.