No title on the line this time, but Riders, Panthers matchup still intense

By Eric Clutter | Correspondent Published:

By ERIC CLUTTER | CORRESPONDENT

In recent times whenever Kent Roosevelt and Norton have matched up on the basketball court there normally has been plenty at stake, namely the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division title.

But when the two 2011-12 Metro co-champs got together to draw the curtain on this year's regular season, there was no such drama. The Panthers clinched the outright Metro crown one week ago, while the rebuilding Rough Riders were hoping to notch their seventh win of the season heading into next week's postseason play.

However, in a high-intensity contest defined by two big scoring spurts, it was the Panthers who left Roosevelt High School with a 67-59 victory.

"Every time we play them it seems like it is for the league title or first or second place," Roosevelt coach Ben Dunlap said. "Nobody else is Ravenna, but they are definitely our No. 2 (rival). And I knew these guys ­-- you can throw the records out -- that they would be ready to play."

Norton (19-3, 13-1 Metro) reeled off 22 straight points encompassing a seven-minute stretch from late in the second quarter through the third period to build a 53-36 lead with one stanza to play.

The Panthers then held off a blistering-hot Corey Mitchell offensive display over the last eight minutes to claim the win.

One of a handful of seniors closing out their home careers, Mitchell made every second of his time on the floor count, pouring in 15 of his game-high 28 points in the last frame. He notched nine straight at one point, and his driving layup with under four minutes to play trimmed what at one time was a 19-point Roosevelt deficit to just a bucket at 56-54.

"The basket also capped a 16-0 Roosevelt run in a four-minute span."

Mitchell shot 11-of-16 for the night and added six rebounds and five assists.

"When Corey gets hot, he can go with the best of them," said Dunlap.

Following Mitchell's hoop that reduced the lead to two points, Norton 6-foot junior Justin Blanks responded with the biggest play of the evening. Fouled while attempting a shot from beyond the arc, Blanks stepped to the line and sank all three opportunities to extend the lead to five points. His free tosses also ignited a 9-0 spurt that finally sealed the win for the visitors.

Blanks finished with 16 points, including 6-of-6 from the foul line. Tyler Sherman, a 6-7 senior and candidate for Metro Player of the Year, led the Panthers with 18 points. Jay Ventura and Matt McGlone each chipped in eight points.

"Tyler Sherman is a heck of a player. If he doesn't win the Player of the Year on Sunday, I'll be absolutely shocked," said Dunlap.

Myles Wright had 11 points for Roosevelt, who fell to 6-16 overall and 5-9 in the Metro. The Rough Riders will have one full week off before competing in the Alliance Sectional Tournament next Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m.

Dunlap was very appreciative of his team's effort and his senior class.

"These seniors, they deserved the moment tonight," he said. "They are great in the classroom, great in the community and with our youth. They epitomize what I want Rough Rider basketball to be about. I'll love them until the day I die. I tell them that I hope my son grows up to be like them. I can't wait to see the success that they have."

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