Panthers lead late, fall to Searcy

Heber Springs sophomore Conner Riddle dribbles past a Searcy defender Tuesday night at the Panther Den. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Ready or not, the Heber Springs Panthers will begin the
4-4A Conference basketball schedule at Subiaco Academy on Friday.

In a final tune-up, the Panthers (1-7) led 40-39 going into the fourth quarter against Class 6A Searcy at the Panther Den Tuesday before dropping a 60-55 decision to the Lions in a nonconference game.

“The guys competed hard,” Heber Springs coach Dusty West said. “We made a lot of big shots during the first half and cooled off in the second half. Our defense was scrambling, and we were out of position at times, but the players gave great effort.”

Sophomore Conner Riddle scored a game-high 24  points for the Panthers. Braden Watson led Searcy with 16 points. Cameron Hicks contributed 14 points.

West said Riddle continues in his development not only as a scorer, but running the team’s offense.

“Conner had another great game,” West said. “He is handling the pressure of running the offense. He generated a lot of offense not only with his scoring, but getting the ball to other players for open shots.”

Ryan Crocker had one of his best performances this season by scoring 20 points.

“I challenged Ryan to be that type of player before the game,” West said. “He handled the pressure, did a good job of rebounding, utilized his size on defense and gave the other team a lot of trouble. He also did a good job of driving to the basket. We need to get that every game from him to do well in conference.”

After a 12-12 tie at the end of the first quarter, Heber Springs pulled ahead by scoring scoring quickly during the next two minutes. Logan Monahan made a 3-pointer and Riddle’s basket built the lead to 17-12.

Searcy responded with three unanswered baskets, but the Panthers regained the lead on a 3-pointer by Riddle, 20-18.

Searcy rallied for a 23-18 lead, but the Panthers finished the second quarter strong, outscoring the Lions 9-1 and led 29-24 at halftime.

Heber Springs survived a charge by the Lions during the third quarter. Crocker scored at the buzzer, giving the Panthers a 40-39 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Searcy took the lead midway through the fourth quarter and held off Heber Springs’ late challenge.

“Searcy switched from a zone to a man-to-man defense in the second half,” West said. “That was the difference in the game. I told the players before the game that the pressure was not on us to win because Searcy is a 6A school. The games that matter are conference games. We just need to go out there and give it our best shot, and we did that.”

Five nonconference games remain, but West said the team’s focus will be to become successful during conference play and make a run for the regional tournament.

“Games like against Searcy will help get us ready for conference play,” West said. “Our last two games (Riverview and Searcy) are similar teams in playing style of most of the conference teams. We are excited about Friday’s game.”

Searcy 12 12 15 21–60
Heber Springs 12 17 11 15–55
Searcy scorers — Braden Watson 16, Cameron Hicks 14, Ckyler Tenger 7, Jack Stafford 6, A’mariyon Briscoe 5, Willie Bowser 4, Landon Hambrick 2, Daniel Perry 2, Zyron Williams 2, Eli Wilson 2.
Heber Springs scorers — Conner Riddle 24, Ryan Crocker 20, Logan Monahan 7, Gus Hannah 2, Austin Winchester 2.

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