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Three starters injured within a span of five games. It was unheard of. But that was the challenge the Panthers faced as they entered a home match-up against Evangel Christian Monday, Jan. 7.
Senior Brandon Stewart fractured his wrist Dec. 27 against Crittenden County in the National Guard Holiday Classic. Head coach Carroll Yager said they hope to have Stewart back in a couple of weeks, but if he does return he will be playing with either a brace or a cast, limiting what he can do.
On Jan. 2, senior Dallas Gibson tore his ACL at Henry County. The injury will require surgery and ends his senior campaign. Then, two days later on Jan. 4, Austin Crowell also tore his ACL at Gallatin County. However, it was not known until Monday afternoon before the Evangel Christian game that he would also be out for the season.
The Panthers needed something positive. They needed someone to step up and to lead the team.
Trey Boles answered the call.
The senior forward scored a career-high 33 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Panthers’ 53-37 victory. “We were missing some guys so we had to have guys step up, so I was glad to do it tonight when we needed it,” Boles said. “Dallas and I were really the guys who had to do most of the scoring. Now that he’s out, I felt like I had to pick up for him and me, but I knew I could do it.”
Yager said he and the other coaches talked to all the players about shifting their roles and that Boles in particular would need to get more touches and score more points. He said everyone responded well to the challenge.
“He really carried us,” he said of Boles. “He worked hard for the shots he got, one of the better games he’s played. For us to move forward, that’s kind of what we’re going to be looking for is a little more offensively, a little more of everything, really. He’s a pretty complete player. He can shoot on the perimeter, he can score around the basket (and he is a) good jumper.”
Boles scored 11 of Carroll’s first 15 points, as the Panthers (9-6) jumped out to a 15-3 first quarter lead.
The Evangel Christian offense (2-8) woke up by the start of the second quarter, scoring on two of their first three possessions. But Boles continued to pour it on, scoring eight more in the quarter. His Panther teammates also got involved, as senior Patrick Booth hit two jumpers and junior Dakota Corbin scored a layup off an outlet pass in the last two minutes of the half.
The Panthers led 32-16 at the break.
Yager said he was “really, really proud” of how his team started, especially since he did not now how they would react to hearing about Crowell’s season-ending injury. “They reacted like champions,” he said. “They came out from the very time the ball was thrown up and … played with a lot of energy.”
The Eagles changed up their defense in the second half, using a box-and-one to focus on shutting down Boles.
The Panthers could not get a shot to drop, including those just a few feet away from the basket. Boles scored their only basket of the period on a drive in the lane toward the end of the quarter, while the Eagles scored 12, whittling the lead down to six points, 34-28. “We had the looks, we were wide open, we just didn’t knock them down,” Yager said. “We’re just gonna have to find somebody else that can shoot a little bit.”
Despite the rough quarter, Carroll bounced back and closed out the game in the fourth. Yager said he thought the team did a good job of executing out of timeouts and adjusting offensively when the Eagles changed defenses.
Boles said he knew he had to step up and score more, especially after the loss to Gallatin County. “At Gallatin, Dallas was out, and I had 15 (points), and I needed to score more than that,” he said. “I’ve been knowing that. I need to shoot the ball more and take it to the rim more, and I did that tonight, so I was glad to step up.”
But the Panthers still need to find another offensive threat if they want to stay competitive. Boles hit 55 percent of his shots (12-22, 9-9 FT), but the Panthers as a team hit just 30 percent of their shots, including 1-10 from 3-point range and 59 percent from the foul line (20-34).
However, on the positive side, the team committed just 13 turnovers without their starting guards—compared to Evangel Christian’s 19—and outrebounded the Eagles 42-26 without their leading rebounder.
“It’s a game we have to try to grow on; it’s like we’re trying to start all over again, really,” Yager said. “We had three new starters in the lineup [Booth, Jay Damron and Jacob Wise], and we’re going deeper into what would have been our bench at one time.”
Yager said his team came into the season with a lot of goals and dreams and are at the point where they either try to keep moving forward or fall backward.
“We’re trying to be positive, but it’s constantly looking for something positive to keep trying to build on,” he said. “… It was good to get a win. That’s got to be good mentally and help us as we try to regroup and move forward.”