After dropping their first game of the Glenwood City Classic, the Ellsworth Panthers boys basketball team (6-3, 2-1) bounced back to earn their sixth win of the season even with all cards stacked against them.
The Panthers picked up a 72-62 victory over the Glenwood City Hilltoppers (5-5, 2-1) on Thursday, Dec. 28 with both new and familiar faces on the court.
The Hilltoppers' Riley Schutz put up the first two points of the night, but the Panthers responded with six straight points — four from Drake Flom and two created by Logan Benson. Ellsworth shortly stretched out their lead to 15-4 with a bucket from Benson and seven straight points from Flom.
GC went on its own 7-0 run to get within two points of Ellsworth midway through the first half, but was never able to claim the lead before halftime largely due to the Panthers' superior passing.
Ellsworth was able to break down the Hilltoppers' 2-3 defense by dishing the ball to their point-guard-like center, Benson, who never failed to find an open teammate cutting to the basket at the low post.
"I think that I've always had them," Benson said about his passing abilities. "I like to pass more than I like to score."
Benson finished with 14 assists added to his 15 points and 17 rebounds for his first triple-double of the season.
The Ellsworth junior helped teammate Logan Richards get his first points of the night, and Erik Lange followed suit by finding Cole Woodland who finished a reverse layup to give the Panthers a 23-17 lead.
GC's Dillon Hierlmeier and Quinn Taylor sank three free throws between the two of them to narrow Ellsworth's lead, but Panthers' freshman and newest varsity member Mason Anderson drained a three to cancel out GC's charity-stripe points.
"He's going to be on varsity going forward," head coach Tim Dahl said of Anderson. "I think he earned his wings tonight."
The freshman finished the game with four points, five rebounds, one steal and one block.
Anderson made another contribution to the varsity team by tieing up a loose ball after an Alex Motley basket, but the Hilltoppers got within four once again once Benson committed his second foul and was brought to the bench.
With Benson out, the Hilltoppers went on a quick 4-0 run to bring the score to 30-26, but with Benson back in, the Panthers got one more bucket before the end of the first half with a Benson-to-Motley find.
Ellsworth entered the locker room with a 32-26 advantage, but wouldn't hold onto it for very long.
GC came out swinging in the second half by going on a 12-4 run, which concluded with Motley being benched for the rest of the game and Lange fouling out with 13:56 left to go in the game.
Down by five with two of their fellow starters out, Benson and Flom kept their cool and faced their team's adversity by creating opportunities for their youngsters to get involved.
The Panthers regained the lead at 47-45 after Flom hit another three, and continued their run with more Benson and Flom two-man play, another Benson-to-Richards basket, and with two Benson free-throws.
With the game in jeopardy, the Hilltoppers put on their full-court press, but with Flom at the point, the Panthers kept their composure, slowed down their offense, and made their way to the free-throw line where they'd shoot for the rest of the night.
Despite how much adversity the Panthers were faced with in the beginning minutes of the second half, Ellsworth's mix of veteran and young talent led the team's way to a 72-62 victory.
"Mason Anderson, Logan Richards and Cole Woodland all played a really good second half," Benson said. "They helped me and Drake take care of the ball, get open shots, and they made layups."
Benson thought his team shared the ball well against the Hilltoppers, which he said has been a struggle of the team's for the last couple of years.
"We have so much good talent, we like to think, and just playing together has been kind of tough," Benson said, "but tonight we pulled it together and played well with each other."
Dahl said his team's victory was largely due to Benson and Flom putting the team on their shoulders, but was also pleased with the effort he saw from his underclassmen, especially Anderson and Richards.
The Panthers lost a tough game to the solid Division 4 Clear Lake team who handed the Panthers a 71-94 defeat on Wednesday, Dec. 27, but Dahl was proud of the way his team battled back to pick up their sixth win of the season after Wednesday's loss.
"We kept fighting, and these kids played their tails off," Dahl said. "I was so proud of the five or six who played the last 15 minutes of that game."
The Panthers were led in scoring by Flom who finished with 28 points, four rebounds and two steals.
Aside from Flom, Benson and Anderson, also scoring for the Panthers were Richards (10), Motley (nine) and Woodland (six).
Hilltoppers scorers: Schutz 18; Hierlmeier 11; Tanner Davis 10; Hadin DeSmith 9; Peter Hill, Taylor 7.