by Beau Wicker
Pioneer handled Gary 21st Century’s fullcourt pressure well enough, and the Panthers’ deadly accurate 3-point shooting was too much for the Cougars to overcome.
The No. 4-ranked Panthers marched on in this morning’s semifinal game of the Class A Triton Regional with a 63-49 win over the Cougars. The Panthers (21-3) face No. 10 Triton (18-5) at 7:30 p.m. tonight for the regional title.
Carter Skaggs had 24 points on 6-of-11 shooting from 3-point range to lead the Panthers over 21st Century (15-8). Brandon Scruggs added 19 points, 16 rebounds and five assists, and the 6-foot-1 point guard was a key to handling 21st Century’s constant fullcourt pressure. Matthew Dorris did work in the paint and finished with 15 points, six boards and three blocks.
Mitchell Williams added three points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks for Pioneer. Stephen Whitlock chipped in two points and five boards.
Skaggs hit three straight 3-pointers to open the second quarter to give Pioneer and early 21-13 lead. Scruggs closed the half with a bomb to give the Panthers a 30-22 lead at halftime as the outside marksmanship helped provide an early advantage.
The Panthers opened the second half with a 15-2 run to take a 45-24 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter. Skaggs scored the first eight points of the run and Scruggs added five.
But the Cougars battled back. They ended the third quarter with an 8-3 run to get within 48-32 after three. Their press continued to give the Panthers problems to open the fourth quarter, and they got as close as 53-43 midway through the frame.
The Panthers had the answer. Scruggs hit two free throws in the one-and-bonus, and he followed with a 3-point dagger to make it 58-43 with 2:45 remaining. Skaggs quickly followed with another trifecta, and two Whitlock free throws pushed the lead back up to 63-43 with 1:22 to go. The Panthers started emptying the bench from there.
“Obviously we hit some shots and that makes it easier,” Pioneer coach Pat Skaggs said. “We knew they were going to hang around. They’re so athletic and they have such a good press, and obviously it bothered us there, especially in the second half. Fortunately for us we had the lead and were able to hang on there.”
Pioneer finished 9 of 19 from 3-point range compared to 21st Century’s 1-of-14 shooting from beyond the arc. The Panthers shot 46 percent overall from the field to the Cougars’ 33.3 percent. They also more than held their own on the boards, outrebounding the Cougars 43-34 for the game.
Pioneer did commit 19 turnovers but did force 11.
“What we did in practice this week was we played against six and seven guys to simulate their quickness,” Pat Skaggs said.
The Cougars cut a 21-point deficit down to 10 as the constant pressure eventually took a toll on the Panthers. But the Panthers responded in time.
“I thought we quit attacking,” Pat Skaggs said. “When you’re playing against that kind of pressure and those kind of traps, you’ve got to look at the basket and attack the basket. You can’t keep passing back out.”
Louis Brown led the Cougars with 15 points, five rebounds and four blocks. Dantrel Hurt had 10 points, and David Jernigan added eight points and six boards.
21st Century, a charter school, was playing in just its second IHSAA Tournament.
Triton knocked off defending regional champion Fort Wayne Canterbury 44-41 in the later semifinal.