Panthers open hoops season with two wins
The Merritt Secondary School senior boys basketball team won two of their three games at the annual Ashcroft Rams Icebreaker tournament on the weekend to finish fourth overall.
The Panthers opened with a 91-67 loss on Friday night to a very strong squad from the B.C. Christian Academy in Port Coquitlam.
Panthers head coach Dave Andersen said that it was unfortunate his team had such a tough opponent in their first game of the year.
“They were a very good team,” he added, “with a very dominant player (Kosia Cauw) who scored 41 points against us.”
After falling behind 13-2 in the first quarter against BCCA, the Panthers battled back to briefly take the lead, 34-33, just before half time.
Unfortunately, Merritt was unable to sustain its offensive push after the break, and the Christian Academy steadily pulled away on the scoreboard in the third and fourth quarters.
Despite the loss, Andersen felt that there were a lot of positives in his team’s season opener.
“I liked the way we came back from the early deficit and handled their press,” the coach said. “I was also pleased with our overall offense against a pretty decent team.”
Leading scorers for Merritt Secondary in the opening loss were Adam Yasunaga and Bryce Dixon with 15 and 14 points respectively.
The Panthers ran roughshod over their second opponents, the Lillooet Barons, in game two on Saturday morning, winning 67-23.
Andersen and assistant coach J.P. Lancaster used the one-sided affair as an opportunity to substitute generously from the bench and work on a few plays at both ends of the floor.
“[Lillooet] was quite a bit smaller than us and not really at our level,” Andersen said. “We really focused on our defense in that game and started to take some pride in our man-to-man coverage.”
Dixon and point guard Ben McNiven each tallied 12 points in the Panthers’ win over the Barons.
In their third and final game of the tournament, on Saturday afternoon, the Panthers jumped out to a 33-15 halftime lead and never looked back, eventually defeating the Barriere Cougars 53-43.
“[The Cougars] were a lot bigger than us, with two forwards in the six-foot-six range, but our game plan of denying them the ball worked well,” Andersen said. “We limited their touches and made it hard for them to get shots.”
Yasunaga had 17 points in the Merritt victory, followed by Dixon with 13.
The Panther senior boys had only a couple of days to recover from their busy weekend, as the team was scheduled to host the Sahali Sabres Wednesday night in their first Okanagan Zone 2 league game. Andersen said that his team would have their work cut out for them against a Sabres squad that was returning four starters from last season’s impressive side.
“We’re in for a big test, that’s for sure,” the coach said. “They run a very effective press, and they can shoot the lights out. We’re going to have to play really strong defence and not panic. I’m actually quite excited to see how we match up against them.”