In a game that looked rather bleak at halftime, the Knoxville Panthers put on a comeback for the ages Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
After making only four field goals the entire first half and trailing the Newton Cardinals 32-16 at intermission the Panthers dug deep to find enough energy and will power to rally for a stunning 57-54 win.
The Panthers improved to 7-1 with the impressive comeback.
The Panthers are currently receiving votes in the Associated Press Poll, but haven’t cracked the top 10 just yet in Class 3A.
The win gave the Panthers seven wins in a row since dropping their opener to PCM at home.
In regard to the win Saturday, KHS Coach Jeff Larson said, “We simply laid an egg in the first half. Newton did a lot of the little things right, give them credit they were fundamentally sound.”
He added, “I’m happy with the comeback. Even had we lost, I was pleased with the effort.”
Knoxville rode the backs of their two junior offensive stars, Kieren Nichols and Spencer Hixson.
Nichols popped in a game high 27 points and Hixson hit for 15.
Despite those numbers, it was a total team effort to pull off the win.
Larson said he was hoping to get the lead cut in half entering the fourth quarter. The team was ahead of that pace as Newton was on top 44-39 entering the final quarter.
A three by Nichols tied the game at 49 with 3:05 to play.
A field goal by Hixson at 1:43 tied the game at 51.
Nichols gave the Panthers their first lead since the first quarter on a layup with 1:15 to go.
A free throw by the Cardinals put the score at 53-52 in favor of KHS.
Ben Olson was fouled and hit the two biggest free throws of his varsity career on a 1-and-1 situation with 21 seconds left for a 55-52 advantage.
With 13 seconds left the Cardinals again made it a one point game at 55-54.
Nichols hit both ends of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity to seal the win at 57-54 with 11.9 seconds left.
Finishing behind Nichols and Hixson on the scoresheet were Alex Eckert with seven points, Olson with four, Luke Keitges three and Mike Hudson with one.
Newton won the battle of the boards 27 to 21.
Guard Noah Allen had 19 points for the Cardinals, 14 of them in the first half.
Adam Mattes was next for the Cards with 14 and Kyle Long added 11.
Kaleb Dydell had just seven points for Newton, but he pulled down 12 rebounds.
Hixson talked about the victory, “We came out of the Bondurant-Farrar game the night before awfully tired after going to overtime.”
“We were getting punched in the mouth by Newton and had to step some stuff up. We were more intense and played with more energy in the second half,” Hixson said.