GALESBURG — Marc Polite hardly sounded like the coach of a boys' basketball team beaten by 19 points in its season-opener.|
However, the United Township bench boss had plenty of reasons to be proud of his youthful Panthers despite a 69-50 setback Monday in the Galesburg Thanksgiving Tournament's curtain-raiser at John Thiel Gymnasium.
"We showed heart. We kept fighting," Polite said after veteran-laden Bartonville Limestone held off an inspired comeback.
From a 24-6 deficit through the first 10 minutes — with UT committing more turnovers (10) than shots taken (8) in the first quarter — the Panthers battled back to within eight points in the final minute of the third period.
"The first quarter was a classic example of youth versus experience," said Polite, who had three sophomores on the floor at times. "For a lot of these guys, this was their first varsity minutes, and it was an adjustment to this level. We went down by a large margin, but we did some good things once we kicked it in gear."
Junior Deveric Rodgers led the Panthers with 17 points, four rebounds and three steals in his first significant varsity action.
Javin Goodwin added 11 points off the bench, six of those in the second quarter, to lead UT's 10th-grade brigade. Fellow sophomores Ryan Meredith and Lamont Mitchell also contributed to the comeback.
"I'm proud of our kids. That's the spirit we like to see," said Polite, whose group battled a bigger Limestone team to a 31-30 draw on the boards. "These kids just don't quit. That's what we're going to do all season, and after awhile we won't put ourselves in this position."
However, Limestone pulled away behind senior Hank Mathews (23 points), plus backcourt play by Lorenzo Burns (12 points, four steals) and Terence Shelby (12 points, seven rebounds, five assists, four steals).
"We just buried ourselves early. We played them even the rest of the game," Polite said. "We cut into (the lead), but they showed their experience. Their guards are a little bigger and stronger than our kids right now, so it was tough to stop their dribble drive."
Another point of emphasis going forward will be handling the ball better. Limestone's pressure defense forced 27 turnovers, allowing the Rockets 15 more shots from the field.
"These kids have a chance to be good, though. It's just a matter of them maturing and understanding what we need to do," said Polite.
"We have to be stronger to make some of those plays at this level. We got bumped off the ball a little bit, when we weren't strong enough to hold our position. But those are the things you learn through time and maturity. As we continue to move down this road, we'll keep working and get better in those areas."
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