HOLLY SPRINGS--It didn't take long for Panther Creek to flex its collective muscle against Holly Springs, using a 16-4 run to close the first quarter and a 16-0 run to end the first half. The Catamounts didn't look back either, cruising to a 78-45.
Panther Creek's Earnest Ross, who has signed to play with the Auburn Tigers next year, had a 9-0 run by himself in the middle of the first quarter's scoring frenzy.
Ross finished with 29 points on the night, including 3-for-3 on his free throws, four 3-pointers and one emphatic, baseline slam over a Golden Hawks defender.
"He was on tonight," PC coach L.J. Hepp said.
At the half, the score was 41-12 Panther Creek, as Holly Springs was baited into turnover after turnover. Some coming in the half-court, others due to full-court pressure.
Super sub T.J. Fitzmaurice had three first-half steals and Ross added quite a few himself.
"At the top of our keys to the game, every game it's create turnovers," Hepp said. "We've had these guys for three years now and they've bought into that."
Also standing out was the post play of Panther Creek. In order to win a conference or state championship, Hepp knows his team has to have others raise their level of play so teams can't key in on Ross.
Forwards Marques Oliver and Aaron Toney combined for 20 points and were dominant on the boards and defending the paint.
"We need guys to play good for us," Hepp said. "Not many teams have two 6'6 guys who can score."
The Golden Hawks had few bright moments, but sophomore center Quentin Underwood did dunk over Oliver for Holly Springs' first bucket. He finished with eight points,and Terrence Walker had a team-high with nine.
The lowlight of the night on either side was the scary knee injury to Holly Springs' B.J. Gaskins.
Gaskins went up for a contested lay-up in transition and landed awkwardly with one knee behind the other as the ball bounced off the rim. Underwood tried to follow-up the miss and was knocked on top of Haskins' legs, causing injury.
Haskins stayed on the ground after Panther Creek got the ball, causing the game to be stopped. His blood-curdling scream made the crowd go from whisper to silent. Although he put no weight on his knee as he was helped off the court, coach Thurman Jordan was sure it was not as serious as it all looked.
"It's just a bruise," Jordan said. "He's had some problems with his knee in the past and I think this one just scared him."