The game featured two very different styles as it matched the frantic run-and-gun style of the Panthers against the slower more methodical motion offense of the Cats. It would be a battle of wills and who could force the other team to play their style.
The Panthers got off to a sluggish start and this keyed Franklin-Simpson to blitz the scoreboard in the first quarter. They scorched the nets to a tune of 86 percent shooting in the first quarter and scored 28 points. Russellville looked out of synch in the first half as they just managed a meager 13 points in the first quarter.
But despite their offensive struggles, the Panthers leaned heavily on their swarming, stifling defense and shut down the ‘Cats holding them to only 10 second quarter points as the Panthers started to claw back into the game going into half time down 38-26.
The second half started off with a bang as RHS opened up the quarter with a dunk that seemed to signal that the Panthers sluggish first half was over. Before the game could get out of hand, Franklin-Simpson slowed the tempo back down and extended the lead going into the fourth quarter.
At the start of the fourth quarter, RHS looked desperate for answers. But as the turnovers started coming the Panthers pounced. They continued to attack the rim and finally the shots started falling. Scoring 24 fourth quarter points led by Devonta Bryant’s 13 points they had a chance closing the gap to three with a few seconds left on the clock.
“We battled back, we played hard and seemed like we tried to get back in the game, but when you get down as far as we did it’s hard to get back,” RHS coach Dennis Pardue said.
Despite a double-double by DJ Quarles and how the Panthers forced Franklin-Simpson into their style of play in the last quarter – the last second shot rattled out, leaving the Wildcats as district champions.
“We did not do what it took to win, you can’t win a championship without defense,” Pardue said.
Even with the loss the Panthers of RHS will advance to the regional tournament where they have played each year since 2003.
Last year they made it out of the first round before falling to eventual regional champs Warren Central. This year will feature a rematch of last year’s semi-finals as RHS looks to get a little revenge for last year’s loss.
“Maybe we’ll take something from that [last quarter] and build upon it for the regional tournament,” Pardue said.
The game will be held at Diddle Arena on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.