The Panther boys let the ball fly from deep with frequency Friday night and were hot enough to take a win from Denison-Schleswig (4-5) 77-48.
Creston (4-3) gained the lead early in the first quarter, and gradually extended it throughout the game on 3-point shooting and effective board control.
Colby Burg’s 3-pointer was answered by Denison-Schleswig’s Matthew Weltz before the end of the first, but the Panthers held a 21-18 lead and had no signs of slowing down a 3-point party that started with four in the first quarter.
Five more 3-pointers in the second quarter helped push the Panthers ahead to the tune of a 20-6 second quarter, entering halftime leading 41-24. By the end of the night, Creston was 11-for-21 from 3-point range.
“I didn’t talk to them about it. Those are the shots we want them to take. It’s just built into our offense,” said Creston head coach Bryce Schafer. “We haven’t shot the ball particularly well as the year has gone on and hopefully this is the catalyst for what we have. ... All of those 3-point attempts came off of our ability to get the ball inside. Khalil (Sherrod) and (Kaden) Briggs had fantastic games. We made a point all week of working inside out, and they showed that off and guards looked good on it.”
Exiting halftime, the Panthers continued to push the floor and score in transition. In the fourth quarter, a 12-3 run in garbage time put the final touches on the game.
“They’re well coached. Coach Finke always has them prepared and ready to go,” said Schafer. “They have two really nice scorers (Braiden Heiden and Aiden Schuttinga). (Heiden), last I checked, was the third leading scorer in the conference. Coming in, those were our two big keys.”
Heiden finished with seven points and Schuttinga scored nine. Leading the Monarchs was Evan Turin with 11 points.
Schafer said the defense did a good job of holding back Heiden, but let Schuttinga slip early in the game. After adjustments, both were non-factors in a potential comeback.
“Our defense led us on both sides and gave us easy looks on the offensive end,” said Schafer. “We really got in their face, and I was pleased with that.”
The success from Friday is a big boost to the Panthers, who early on in the season were struggling to find their identity on the floor. Comparing and contrasting the Creston boys from Friday to opening night is a night-and-day comparison.
“It’s only going to elevate us. The way we started the year put a bad taste in the guys’ mouth, and I think we’ve worked our tails off in practice,” said Schafer. “They’ve done everything I’ve asked of them. The bench has really increased their energy, which I think has really driven us forward. It also helps to have this game be full crowd capacity. That always helps as well.”
Leading in scoring for Creston was Colby Burg, scoring 21 points with five assists. Khalil Sherrod scored 13 points and Kaden Briggs scored 12 points.
Briggs completed a double-double with 10 rebounds.
Baker’s last dance
The fourth quarter of Friday’s game also saw the final minutes of Creston forward Brance Baker’s high school basketball career. A shoulder injury, sustained during the football season, has been plaguing Baker much of the basketball season.
Electing for a surgery to prevent further injury, Baker played his final game Friday. He scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
“I’ve been a head coach for 10 years now, and there’s only been two guys, he and Drake Kinsella (Grant City, Mo.) that embodied a true leader,” said Schafer. “Wasn’t a talk guy, just did the right things. It’s so unfortunate the way he was to end his senior year. I love that guy to death, and he does everything I’ve ever asked for as a coach. ... It takes a really special guy to have the heart to do everything you need him to do.”
Fellow Creston coaches and opposing Hawkeye 10 coaches chimed in with their acknowledgement of Baker’s talent Friday night on Twitter, with Harlan boys basketball coach Mitch Osborn calling Baker a “great basketball player and super young man,” and Creston girls basketball head coach Tony Neubauer saying “hands down one of the toughest kids I’ve been around in 20 years. Heck of a career and even better kid.”
Former Southwestern mens basketball coach and current Mount Marty mens basketball coach Todd Lorensen said, “not surprised one bit he has played through pain and injury to help his team in any way possible.”
Schafer cited Baker being the all-time leader in charges taken in school history as part of the intangibles you can’t teach a player. As of Friday night, Baker was second on the team in points (57), first in assists (15) and third in rebounds (28).
“We’re going to miss him a lot, but we’re going to dedicate this thing to him and see how far we can take it,” Schafer said.
UP NEXT – Creston will next play tonight (Monday) against Red Oak (3-4). Tip from Red Oak will come at 7:30 p.m.