Elks outlast Panthers to keep early win streak alive
Special to the Whig
— The way Elkton head coach Joe Zang generously threw fresh bodies onto the floor, it was no surprise that one of them stepped up at the end.
Imposing junior Travias “Tazz” Smith used his 6-foot-5, 270-pound frame to his advantage, scoring six of the Golden Elks’ final eight points in their 7167 non-divisional home win over county rival Perryville, Wednesday night.
Smith was one of several players to rejoin the basketball squad after the football team made it all the way to the 2A title game. He came in mainly to guard
Perryville’s big post man, Treshawn Warren, but he drained a pair of put-backs in the final two minutes — the latter with just 14.1 seconds left — that kept the Elks (3-0) in front. Smith was one of six bench players, and 10 overall, to score in the game.
“I don’t know if we win the game without those two rebounds he had,” Zang said. “He’s a big body and he’s been here before, and it’s fun to watch him play. It’s fun to watch all those big guys down low play. I’m blessed to have a lot of size on this team. He was the one tonight, but it could be somebody else tomorrow.”
Both teams came in loaded with talent and experience and battled with play- off intensity. Neither group could get a definitive edge and headed into the fourth quarter deadlocked at 4949. The Elkton defense then provided that edge, forcing several Panther turnovers that led to transition baskets, and the resulting 8-0 run gave the Elks a 61-53 advantage. It was the largest lead of night for either team.
“In December, you might not have all your sets in, you might not have all your X’s and O’s down, but you can pressure and you can play defense, which is what we’ve been preaching since day one,” Zang said. “You saw some rust early on, but I think they hit a groove in the second half on defense.”
Perryville (2-1) got five quick points back with Dennis Johnson’s long 3-pointer and two free throws following a technical foul. The score stayed uncomfortably close until Smith’s first putback and a steal and layup from Ja’Quian Wesson made it 67-61 with 90 seconds to go. Panther senior point guard Dom Gugliotta nearly brought his team back, sinking two of three free throws and a layup, but Smith sandwiched a regular basket and a put-back around a Perryville miss to put the contest away.
“Coach told me I had to box out [Warren] because he was physical on the rebounds. I had to help my teammates out, and I was at the right place at the right time,” Smith said with a smile.
The two squads had their offenses firing on all cylinders in the first half, both averaging nearly 20 points per frame. They also combined for 10 3-pointers.
Perryville led 39-37 at the break, but the offenses fell back to earth and early December in the third quarter, failing to crack the scoreboard for more than four minutes. Panthers head coach Charles Givens, Sr., said his players never fully recovered from that drought, particularly when Elkton took the lead for good.
“They played well throughout the game with the exception of a period in that fourth quarter when they went away from what they’ve done and just started throwing the ball away,” he said. “We have some ballplayers and we have a good program at Perryville, and basically we want to be competitive. Thus far, we’ve shown we can be competitive with anybody.”
Gugliotta scored a gamehigh 18 points for the Panthers, while Johnson and Nick Roberts chipped in with 16 and 12, respectively.
Despite coming off the bench and sitting out most of the third quarter due to foul trouble, Ryan Thompson led all Elkton scorers with 15. Chino Pernell was close behind with 14 and two steals. Amazingly, the Elks did not make a single foul shot in the game. All four of their attempts came in the fourth quarter.
Elkton will soon have all of its players back, making it even more dangerous against upcoming opponents.
“It definitely gives us confidence, but we’ve got a really good Newark (Del.) team that we have to play in a Christmas tournament on Friday,” Zang said. “All we can do is learn what we did wrong and build on our mistakes. It’s great to be 3-0 right now, but we’re playing for March.”