When the Knoxville Panthers called on the Rockets of EBF at Eddyville Friday, Dec. 20,, it turned into a high octane basketball game with both teams enjoying an up tempo pace. Knoxville finished the third period with a 12-0 run to take a comfortable 64-40 lead, and it looked liked things were going in the right direction.

With five minutes left in the game and his team holding a 70-47 lead, Knoxville coach, Jeff Larson, chose to let his bench close down the game. The Rockets stayed with their first unit and they mounted a furious run that cut the Panther lead to 70-60 with 3:30 left.

The Knoxville regulars were back in the game quickly, but they were in foul trouble. In the final three minutes Kieren Nichols and Spencer Hixson both departed with five fouls and the battle raged. When the Rockets cut the deficit to 74-69 with 1:15 left, the Panthers were looking for a stopper. They found one in freshman Luke Keitges. In the final 1:10 of the game Keitges nailed 6-of-8 free throws to lift his team to an 82-73 win.

The Panthers put 21 points on the board in the first period, but the pesky Rockets stayed close with 15. The second quarter saw Knoxville extend the lead to 44-29. Nichols was the thorn in the side of the Rockets in the first half as he drained 24 of his 39 point total.

“We gave up too much on defense,” Knoxville coach Jeff Larson said. “We just couldn’t get the stops we needed late in the game. But Luke Keitges stepped up with some excellent play down the stretch with big free throws. Kieren Nichols is a great scorer and he had a super game. But he is also a great assist man and he needs to use that more when he is double and triple teamed. With the tempo that we like to play,”

In addition to the 39 points by Nichols, the Panthers got 16 points from Hixson and 10 from Keitges. Ben Olson chipped in with nine points.

Isaiah Smith led the Rockets with 19 points.

The Panthers are 5–1 overall and 4-0 in South Central Conference play.

Knoxville scoring – Ben Olson 4 1-4 9, Mike Hudson 0 1-3 1, Luke Keitges 2 6-8 10, Kieren Nichols 13 9-12-39, Spencer Hixson 5 4-4 16, Keegan Cox 1 1-1 3, Alex Eckert 2 1-1 5, Team 27 22-33 82 – Three point goals (6) – Nichols 4, Hixson 2.

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