Panthers can#039;t overcome shooting woes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 13, 2003

ATHENS, Ohio - The shots were off target. The foul shots were just short. The ball bounced the wrong way.

In other words, it just wasn't meant to be.

The Chesapeake Panthers couldn't overcome their shooting struggles as they lost to the Marion Pleasant Spartans 46-33 Wednesday in the Division III regional semifinals.

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"Nothing went our way," Panthers coach Norm Persin said. "They weren't exactly burning up the nets, but we weren't getting much (offense) from anybody. Our two leading scorers had four fouls and our sixth man had four fouls."

Chesapeake was just 13 of 35 from the field and 5 of 14 from the foul line. Leading scorer Nick Karle had just 6 points and second-leading scorer and top rebounder Aaron Gossett failed to score and had only one of his five rebounds in the second half.

Gossett picked up two fouls in the first half and sat out part of the second quarter, then got his third foul with 3:11 left in the third quarter and his fourth with 7:16 to play. Karle had three fouls in the third quarter giving him four with three seconds left on clock.

"We had to take (Gossett) out early. He couldn't get going. He didn't score or rebound like he can," Persin said.

Matt Rucker, a 6-foot-7 senior center, led the Panthers with a game-high 16 points and had seven rebounds.

The Spartans Jordan Hilsher scored 14 points, Paul Kuzio had 11 points - all from the foul line - and Kyle Ridge finished with 10 points despite shooting 2-of-12 from the field.

"Rucker stepped up offensively, and (Daniel) Thompson D'ed up Ridge. We couldn't ask for a better defensive and floor game out of Thompson," Persin said.

Chesapeake (21-2) began and ended its season with losses to Marion Pleasant. The Panthers lost 39-38 to Marion Pleasant the first game of the season in the National Hoops Classic in Wellston, then won 21 in a row.

Spartans coach Kirk Ballinger felt fortunate to get past the Panthers again.

"We have tremendous respect for coach Norm Persin. They're so disciplined. We're very proud of our team to win against a very good team like Chesapeake," Ballinger said.

Marion Pleasant jumped out to a 16-5 lead. Timmy Thacker knocked down a 3-pointer before the end of the first quarter to get the Panthers within 16-8.

"We just played with little energy early. They made some shots and got some loose balls," Persin said. "We didn't want them to jump out early because they slow it down. And it's hard to press them because of the Ridge kid handles the ball so well."

Thacker's basket ignited the Panthers. Rucker, who scored 8 points in the second quarter, made two foul shots at the 1:56 mark to put Chesapeake on top for the first time at 20-18.

But a technical foul was called on Chesapeake for hitting the ball when Pleasant was trying to inbound, and Kuzio hit both shots to tie the game at the half.

The lead see-sawed in the third quarter with Chesapeake using a layup by Rucker to go ahead 27-25. Hilsher made a foul shot and then used an alley-oop pass from Ridge to slam down a dunk and give the Spartans the lead for good.

"Hilsher's play took some of the wind out of them and lifted us up," Ballinger said.

Jason Edler's two foul shots with three seconds on the clock put Pleasant ahead 30-27 heading into the fourth quarter.

Rucker made a layup with 5:14 to play to tie the game at 33-33, but the Spartans then went on a 13-0 run to finish the game.

Kuzio made two foul shots at the 4:21 mark, then fed Abe Sparling for a dunk with 2:10 left for a 37-33 lead. The Panthers were forced to foul and Marion Pleasant converted 7-of-8 from the line over the final 1:53 to seal the win.

"We knew they wanted to go inside," Ballinger said. "We had been fronting (Rucker). We felt they would go over the top on us. With five minutes left we went to full front and we got really good backside help. The last five minutes our defense was outstanding."

Marion Pleasant (23-2) will play Sugarcreek Garaway at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the regional finals. Garaway rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Southeastern 41-36 in the other semifinal game.