By ERIC CLUTTER | CORRESPONDENT
How well the Kent Roosevelt basketball team is developing this season will not always be reflected by the number in the left-hand column of the standings.
The true barometer will be the Rough Riders' ability to string together consistent efforts, regardless if the outcome is positive or negative.
Friday night against Norton, in one of the toughest gyms to play in, Roosevelt put forth arguably its best all-around performance of the season in an eventual 61-51 loss in a Portage Trail Conference Metro Division contest between the reigning co-champions from a year ago.
Thanks to mini-runs of eight, seven and six points throughout the night, the Rough Riders (3-7 overall, 3-4 Metro Division) were within three points at 49-46 with 5:32 remaining in the contest.
But the Panthers, coming off their first division loss and only second overall defeat on the season this past Tuesday at Streetsboro, finally put the resilient Rough Riders away with a 7-0 spurt to record their 10th win of the season and remain comfortably atop the Metro with a 6-1 mark.
"I am very pleased," said Roosevelt coach Ben Dunlap. "It's two games in a row. Tuesday night we had the game, or we thought we did. Unfortunately, we came up on the losing end.
"Norton is an unbelievable team. They have their horses back, they are loaded. I couldn't be more proud of the way we came in and competed."
After blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in an overtime loss to Crestwood last Tuesday, early on against the Panthers it did not look good for Roosevelt. Falling behind by 10 points late in the opening quarter, the Rough Riders began to lose sight of Norton in the latter portion of the half and trailed 33-17.
But a couple of Corey Mitchell buckets spurred an 8-0 run that quickly narrowed the Roosevelt deficit to just eight points at the intermission.
Norton -- which was led by Tyler Sherman and Aaron VanBuskirk with a dozen points apiece, along with nine points from both Justin Blanks and Jeff Schulte -- began to pull away again early in the second half, building its cushion to 42-29.
However, the Rough Riders responded with seven unanswered tallies that helped them keep the gap at only six points after three frames.
Twice in the final eight minutes Roosevelt crept within three, the first time off a Joseph Watts follow-up hoop and then again at 49-46 on a pair of Myles Wright free tosses.
But just like in the Crestwood loss, the last five minutes of regulation proved difficult for the Rough Riders -- particularly on the offensive end, where things got a little sloppy and led to some turnovers.
Still, there were many more positives than negatives on this night, including a 10-of-11 performance from the foul line and a slight rebounding advantage against the equally tall Panthers.
"I thought everybody did something positive and gave everything they had," said Dunlap. "I told the guys we can play with them, and we did. (Norton) has so much firepower. One little missed assignment on defense and they can knock down a 3-pointer."
Schulte drained three 3s as the Panthers piled up eight for the contest.
Watts led the Rough Riders with 15 points, and Mitchell supplied 14.
Dunlap is looking forward as the second half of the season approaches.
"We have some young pups and some old pups, experience-wise," said the rookie coach. "These pups are growing up."