Ben Zemonek scored 21 points from the floor, interim coach Nick Pendergraft re-focused his team’s excitement after some early foul troubles and Leesville men’s basketball team downed Panther Creek 71-49 on Tuesday for their second win of the season.
After holding a relatively slim eight-point lead at the end of the third quarter, the Pride (2-2) pulled away with an 11-2 run midway through the final frame and cruised to the eventual 22-point victory over the visiting Catamounts (1-1).
“The boys came out and played really hard from the jump,” said Pendergraft, who was filling in for suspended head coach Russ Frazier. “We wanted to come out and set the tone. We were not satisfied with the way that we performed last week, we did a great job preparing yesterday in practice, and the boys really…executed and played with a lot of energy.”
Leesville sandwiched an impressive 72-66 win over New Hanover with two decisive losses last week, falling 73-61 in their season opener at Cary and then 76-48 against defending state champion Apex. Tuesday’s win evened their winning percentage at .500 entering Thanksgiving break.
But the game was especial due to Frazier’s absence, and the desire for Leesville’s amiable boss to return was expressed by all.
“Frazier wasn’t on the bench [and] I was thinking about him the whole time,” said Zemonek. “I was just trying to score every bucket for him (that) I could.”
Zemonek, a junior, scored 13 of his 21 points in the second half to lead the team. Alex Hunter, sophomore, went eight-for-eight in second half free throws to finish with 15 points. Jonathan Mebane, sophomore, and Eric Scollard, junior, each added 10 points. Panther Creek was led by Juan Munoz, who scored an incredible 26 of his team’s 49 points.
Panther Creek went to the free throw line quite frequently in the first half, as Leesville committed a whopping 12 fouls, then was forced to attempt a plethora of three-pointers in the second half. As a result, the Pride out-scored the Catamounts 46-20 from two-point range.
“We talked at halftime about harnessing that energy, about being aggressive but being smart about it,” said Pendergraft, whose team led 14-10 after the first quarter and 31-21 after the second. “I think the guys did a better job of that on both ends of the floor in the second half.”
Zemonek noted strong rebounding and forcing turnovers as the keys to the victory.
The Pride will enjoy a week off for the holidays before facing Athens Drive next Tuesday, Dec. 2. In the meantime, they hope to ignore the distractions and enjoy preparing for the upcoming conference schedule.
“Whether I’m the head coach [or]… the assistant coach, as long as I’m with these guys, I’m going to have a lot of fun,” laughed Pendergraft after his first official coaching win. “It was a lot of fun.”