Creston looked dead in the water late Monday against an Atlantic team that found its groove offensively in the third quarter.
After yielding a 14-0 run to end the period down 53-40, Creston slowly picked the pace back up after falling behind 62-45, hitting big shot after big shot that rivaled the frenetic offensive production that they put together in the third.
"What a crazy, wild and fourth quarter," Atlantic coach Alan Jenkins remarked.
The Panthers fell 72-66, but had the entirety of the gymnasium clinging to the action late when the game looked all but said and done.
“I was proud of the way we fought back and battled," Creston coach Taylor Phipps said.
In the third quarter Scott Leonard provided the offensive firepower around the bucket for Atlantic early, scoring the Trojans' first eight points and later scoring Atlantic's first seven points of the second half.
Not having the size of the 6-8 300-plus pound Tucker Flynn due to sickness made stopping Leonard, who netted 27 points, immensely more difficult.
“He’s the best post player we’ll play all year. He’s a load in there," Phipps said.
Austin Alexander, who ended the evening with 23 points and numerous timely jumpers, aided that run with several 3-pointers, and Grant Podhajsky fought through contact for a hard-earned bucket toward the end of the third.
"I think establishing Scott early in the game allowed Austin to get shots late," Jenkins said.
“The stretch there in the third quarter middle to end of the third quarter, we just didn’t get shots to fall," Phipps said. "I thought in that stretch we had some good looks. But we need to find a way to make sure we have quality possessions in the midst of a run from the other team. Obviously they were getting stops. Their energy was up and that carries over on the other end.”
Kylan Smallwood dropped in two quick buckets to star the fourth quarter and Cael Kralik finished a wide open cherry pick layup to bring the deficit to 15 with 4:02 to go.
Following an Alexander jumper, the Panthers mounted a 9-0 run, over which Evan Jacobson finished an and-one bucket with the freebie, Cole Higgins knocked down a trey, and Evan Jacobson hit another one of his five 3-pointers from deep.
Higgins' energetic play and nine points helped the Panthers in several big moments Monday.
“He really stepped up tonight and was a leader on both ends of the floor," Phipps said. "It’s that type of play that we’ll need from Cole if we’re going to make a run in the postseason."
Coming off a 33-point senior night performance, Jacobson led the Panthers with 24 points and has seen his scoring average reach up to 17.4 points per game.
"We really tried to limit penetration gaps for Jacobson and Smallwood," Atlantic coach Alan Jenkins said.
So instead of scoring by way of the middle of the lane, Jacobson hit outside shots and Smallwood drove toward the blocks. Smallwood scored 21 and is now averaging 23.6 points per game.
In the early going, the Panthers bounced back from an inability to stop Leonard early by hitting shots and executing with different offensive looks.
After playing Leonard smarter on defense and limiting his easy shots, the Panthers picked up their play.
Smallwood drove the left baseline on a possession late in the first quarter and whipped a nifty bounce pass to the right corner beside the student section where Jacobson, the recipient, nailed the open dagger.
Cael Kralik hit a tough floater for two of his 11 points, and Creston closed the first down 22-17.
The Panthers continued running and jumping defensively mixed up their defensive looks to keep Atlantic off balance.
Atlantic fell out of rhythm and Creston grabbed the lead following an open triple from Higgins and five quick points from Smallwood.
Kralik's 3-pointer in the last minute of the half sent Creston into half up 35-32.
“We’ve been working on a couple different sets and looks on defense to throw them off a bit and we did a good job executing that first half for sure," Phipps said.
UP NEXT — Creston fell to 8-11 in what was a nonconference game. The Panthers have a chance to finish at .500 in conference play (the Panthers are 4-5 in Hawkeye 10 play) with a home win over Harlan tonight (Tuesday). The Panthers lost at Harlan 57-45 on Dec. 12.