KNOXVILLE — The night cap of Tuesday night’s basketball doubleheader in Knoxville featured a pair of unbeaten South Central Conference teams. The visiting Centerville Big Red and the Knoxville Panthers both feature lineups that can put points on the board in a hurry, but this game turned into a grinding defensive battle with the Panthers pulling away in the second half for a 55-41 victory.
The Panthers opened the game with an 11-3 run behind a pair of three balls by Spencer Hixon and a triple by Drew Robinson. Luke Keitges finished the quarter with a conventional three-point play. That would be an inside basket followed by a free throw to give Knoxville a 14-9 lead.
The Panthers threatened to break the game open in the second quarter as a baseline drive for two and a pair of free throws by Keitges along with a basket from behind the arc by Robinson increased the Knoxville lead to 21-9. But then the Panther shooting irons went cold in the final four minutes and all they could put on the board would be a drive down bloody nose lane by Kieren Nichols. Meanwhile the Big Reds closed to gap to 23-15 going into halftime.
In the third stanza, the climate changed for the Panthers. Instead of depending on the outside shot, they went inside and peppered the net for five buckets. Nichols and Hixon had two baskets each and Keitges added another.
“We told them that we are not shooting an outside shot until the ball goes inside,” Panther coach Jeff Larson said. “It worked as we were able to score on the inside.”
But then Knoxville suffered and three minute dry spell that allowed the Big Reds to stay within striking distance at 39-31 after three quarters of play.
Nichols, Keitges and Hixon led a 10-3 run to open the final quarter and give the Panthers a relatively comfortable 49-34 lead with three minutes to go in the game. Keitges had three baskets and a pair of free throws in that last eight minutes.
“We have been preaching defense for some time now,” Larson added, “We still need to box out better, but we are improving. We are going to need that defense in the games ahead of us. We can score, but right now we are having trouble making shots. Centerville like to mess with the tempo of the game and when that happens, you need to make outside shots.”
Keitges and Nichols each checked in with 17 points while Hixon was close behind with 15 markers. Mike Hudson added six points and no other Panther could dent the scoring column. Keitges led the team on the glass with nine rebounds while Hixon was the steal leader with three.
Next up for Knoxville will be another battle of the league unbeatens when the travel to Albia Friday night to square off with the Blue Demons. The marbles will be on the line with the winner taking sole possession of the conference lead.
Centerville (0-6, 0-2 SCC) heads to Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont on Friday still seeking its first win of the season. The game will be the fourth in seven days for the Big Reds and the third straight on the road.
Centerville 9 6 16 10 - 41
Knoxville 14 9 16 16 - 55
Knoxville scoring (FG FTM-FTA Pts) – Luke Keitges 6 5-9 17, Mike Hudson 2 0-0 6, Kieren Nichols 7 2-2 17, Spencer Hixon 6 0-0 15. Team 21 7-11 55. Three point goals (6) – Hixon 3, Hudson 2, Nichols 1.
Knoxville rebounds (26) – Keitges 9, Robinson 5, Keegan Cox 4, Nichols 4, Hixon 3.
Knoxville steals (6) – Hixon 3, Nighols 1, Cox 1, Robinson 1.