SOUTH JAMAICA, N.Y. - On the road to the playoffs, every squad playing in games with playoff implications during the last weekend of pool play in the iS8/Nike Fall Tip-Off Classic is trying to bring their A-game. However, with pressure high and nerves tried, teams are challenged to bring clutch performances to the hardwood.
One such team that rose to the occasion was the New York Panthers.
In its first showing at the iS8/Nike, the Panthers blazed right through the competition, notching a 2-0 standing on Saturday at Intermediate School 8. Not holding anything back, despite an obvious skill disparity between the New York squad and its opponents, the Panthers were winners-by-blowout in both competitions.
v. Brooklyn Badgers (Red), 77-49
The Panthers shot off to an 11-2 lead in the first quarter. Despite trailing early, the Brooklyn Badgers (Red) were able to narrow the margin to only three points, 15-12, in the second quarter. The Panthers went on another mini-surge, increasing its advantage to 10 points, twice, with under 3:30 left in the period - the second time being a 31-21 lead.
The Badgers used the remaining 1:07 before the close of the period to fight uphill against a well-equipped Panthers squad. The Badgers cut the deficit down to as low as five points, 31-26, by halftime. However, that five-point differential would be the closest the Badgers would get to the Panthers for the duration of the game.
Showing off its long, strong and athletic wings with great penetrating and finishing ability in Amir Garrett (game-high 18 points) and Malik Nichols (16 points), the Panthers pulled away in the third phase.
Outscoring the Brooklyn Badgers, 27-10, in the third quarter, while cashing in on 3-pointers, power dunks and acrobatic lay-ins over the competition, there was nothing for the Panthers to do but keep playing. It would be a lobbed pass from Panthers' Austin Williams to Zedir Sadler (eight points) that would give the Panthers a 22 point lead, 58-36.
In the fourth and final phase, the Panthers stayed on cruise control. With the continued dynamic guard play of Melvin Johnson (16 points), the Panthers extended their advantage to 24 points, 64-40, on a fierce power dunk by Garrett that sent some spectators to their feet.
The Panthers wide margin, grew to as much as 30 points, 75-45, just before the end of the game.
The Badgers' Elijah Fruter and Kamal Nelson each scored a team-high eight points a piece in the loss.
v. St. Patricks, 98-73
After winning its contest against the Rhode Island Breakers, 50-42, earlier in the day, St. Patricks (N.J.) still had a fighting chance to advance to the playoffs if it could clear the second competitor of the day, the New York Panthers. Expected to be the best contest of the day, an intense battle between St. Pats, who were then 2-1, and the Panthers, 1-0, only lasted a little less than two quarters.
The Panthers got off to another early start in its second match of the day, leading St. Pats 23-15 by the end of the first quarter on a runner by Zedir Sadler. However, a 1-of-2 performance by DeAndre Bembry (nine points) and a 3-pointer from Jared Nickens (game-high 23 points, nine in the first half), by the 6:45 mark of the second quarter, cut the deficit to only two points, 23-21.
The intense pressure defense by the Panthers, spearheaded by the dynamic athleticism of Amir Garrett (team-high 19 points, 14 in the first half), allowed the squad to go on a 13-2 run. The surge gave the New York squad a 13-point advantage, 36-23, with about two minutes left in the half, after a 3-pointer by Melvin Johnson (15 points) and a two-of-two performance from the stripe by Austin Williams (13 points).
Despite chipping the deficit down to nine points, 36-27, on a lay-up by St. Patricks with 1:40 on the clock, the Panthers regained its l3-point lead, 42-29 by halftime.
What was just a mismatch in skill under pressure, turned into a thrashing in the third quarter. With the unmatched contributions of Panthers' big man Laimonas Chatkevicius (18 points), who was rebounding like a mad man and cleaning up for his teammates like a maid around the basket, St. Patricks saw its chances at getting to the playoffs dwindle.
By about the three minute mark of the tertiary period, the Panthers led by as much as 18 points, 62-44, on a floater by Johnson. St. Pats would only be able to cut the deficit to 11 points, 64-53, when Nickens nailed a trey. Still, the Panthers pushed its advantage back up to 15 points, 68-53, after a 3-pointer by Johnson.
The fourth quarter was more of the same, as the Panthers were able to extend the margin to as much as 24 points three times during the period. The last time was when the score was 90-66 with about two minutes left in the game.
St. Pats' Elijah Davis netted 16 points in the loss.
St. Patricks wrapped up pool play 2-2.