What a great way to start the New Year!
The Knoxville Panthers and the Bondurant-Farrar Blue Jays kicked off 2020 with a great basketball game in the Panther Den. It was high octane basketball for a full 32 minutes and then for another four minute overtime period before the Panthers emerged with a 72-69 victory.
A pair of Panthers figured in some late game heroics. First it was Kieren Nichols, who tied a Knoxville single game scoring record with 41 points in the game, but none were more important than his final ten points.
With 1:13 left in the game and his team trailing 64-60, Nichols rained in a three from the student section. B-F answered with a free throw by Colby Collison for a 65-63 lead. But Nichols got lose for two on the inside to tie the score at 65-65 with 16 seconds left. The Jays were unable to score and the game was headed for overtime.
Nichols got things rolling in the overtime with another three from the student section, but the Jays answered with a pair of baskets by Braden Miller and Marquis George-Towns to take a 69-68 lead.
Nichols had the answer again as he went high on the glass for two and a 70-69 Panther lead.
B-F missed a shot with 22 seconds left and they fouled Panther freshman, Luke Keitges, to send him to the line. “Cool Hand Luke” swished both free throws for a 72-69 lead. Now it was time for the Panther defense to do its thing and when the Jays could not get a shot to go down, there was joy in the camp.
The first quarter looked like it might be a Knoxville blowout as the Panthers erupted for a 23-10 lead after the first eight minutes.
Nichols knocked down 11 points in the quarter and he got help from Spencer Hixson with a pair of baskets, Keegan Cox with a trey, Alex Eckert with a basket and a free throw and Ben Olson with a pair of free throws.
In the second quarter the Jays began to nibble away at the lead and cut it to 39-32 at intermission.
In that final quarter the battle raged and the Panthers had to fight for their lives. First it was Hixson who stepped up with a shot from near the free throw line and a three point bomb to give Knoxville a 56-52 lead. But the Jays came back with an 8-0 run for a 60-56 lead.
Nichols answered with a free throw and an NBA three to tie the score. B-F used baskets by Nate Anderson and Miller for a 64-60 lead and now it was Panther time with Kieren and Luke.
“Win or lose, this game will make us better,” Panther coach Jeff Larson said. “I got outcoached a little in the second half, but my assistant coaches came to my rescue. Our kids played very hard and just kept working until they found a way to win. Kieren was just super, Luke came through big and Alex Eckert gave a fine rebounding effort.”
In addition to the 41 point outburst by Nichols, the Panthers got a double-double from Hixson with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Eckert chipped in with six rebounds and six assists.
The Jays were led by Miller with 22 points, Collison with 16 and Anderson with 12 points.