LEWISBURG — The pace was right where Tri-County North boys basketball coach Joe Smith wanted.
For the first nine minutes of the game, North controlled the tempo to build a nine-point lead (16-7) over visiting Arcanum in a boys Cross County Conference game.
But over the course of the remaining 23 minutes, the Trojans remained patient and content to play at their own pace and gradually grabbed control of the game, handing North a 48-39 setback in the Panthers’ season-opener on Friday, Dec. 11.
“I think we came out with great intensity. I mean, the first quarter we gave up seven points. Our goal was to play good defense, 10 points per quarter and we thought our offense would kind of get into a rhythm but it didn’t,” Smith said.
Senior Dylan Stinson, who suffered an injury during football season, attempted to play but was limited, and it changed the dynamic of North’s offense.
“Dylan gets hurt off the tip. So, I think it just kind of changes the dynamic,” Smith said. “We played pretty good basketball [in] the first half I thought. In the second half, couldn’t get any type of flow.”
North held a 12-7 lead after the first quarter and was up 16-7 with 7:13 left in the first half.
That’s when the Trojans began their comeback, deliberate on offense against the Panthers’ zone defense.
Arcanum went on a 17-4 run to take the lead for good and was up 29-24 at the half.
Arcanum extended its lead to 38-29 after three.
With just over four minutes left, North trailed 42-31.
“I told them we got to speed them up. We had to start making them play faster and it worked for about three minutes in the fourth quarter,” Smith said. “We started seeing them make turnovers, rushing, making bad decisions and that was kind of our game plan coming in was, they don’t want to run, we wanted to run, and unfortunately we didn’t run as much as I wanted us to.”
The Panthers rallied to get within five (42-37) with 1:30 left and still trailed 44-39 with 59 seconds left.
North had its chances to close the gap, but couldn’t secure a defensive rebound.
“A minute left, [we give up] four offensive rebounds and down four, that will kill you,” Smith said. “To me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s just one of those things that just made you nauseous as a coach. It’s definitely frustrating. That’s as easy as I can put it.”
Smith said first-game jitters may have played a role in the loss.
“We got it down to six and then we got a steal and made a bucket, got it to four. I think we played extremely hard. I don’t think there’s any non-effort tonight,” Smith said. “Maybe it’s the fact that this is our first game and this is their third. I don’t want to make excuses, because I don’t ever.”
Smith said players are going to have to step up with Stinson playing a limited role as he recovers from his injury.
“We’ve had Dylan in there for the last three years [at point guard] and with his injury, you know, there’s gonna be times where we’re going to have to play without him,” Smith said.
Wyatt Royer stepped up to lead the team in scoring with 15 points before he suffered an injury with just under three minutes left in the game.
“Wyatt stepped up tonight. He scored, I think, 15 and did the things he needed to. Luke Eby showed up in the second half. Played well,” Smith said. “Dylan knows he’s gonna have to facilitate a whole lot more. Guys know they are going to have to start stepping up and doing the little things.”
Cooper Cole had nine points and six rebounds and Eby finished with 11 points.
North (0-1, 0-1 CCC) was scheduled to play at Twin Valley South on Tuesday, Dec. 15. The Panthers are set to host Middletown Madison on Wednesday, Dec. 16 and will host Troy Christian on Monday, Dec. 21. On Tuesday, Dec. 22, North is scheduled to travel to Yellow Springs.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 or follow on Twitter @emowenjr