Jeff Schimmel grabbed the closest locker room wall to lean on during Monday night's post-game chat with the media.|
Nobody could blame the Moline boys' basketball coach. Not after a knee-buckling upset bid by Class 4A regional host United Township.
Three days after losing the regular-season finale by 21 points at Wharton Field House, the Panthers came up a fourth-quarter Moline press short of pulling off the postseason-opening shocker, in a 52-47 thriller at the Panther Den.
Fourth-seeded Moline (19-12) swept the three-game season series to survive to face Western Big 6 Conference rival, top-seeded and four-time league champ Rock Island (22-4) at 7:30 tonight.
In a contest featuring four ties and eight lead changes, and neither team leading by more than six points, fifth-seeded UT (5-22) had a five-point edge at 43-38 with 4:45 remaining.
However, normally anchored by a 1-2-2 zone defense, the Maroons responded with full-court pressure out of a timeout to force four UT turnovers and spark a 10-0 run to regain the lead for good.
"I don't know if we've shown that against UT this season, but I thought we needed some energy there," Schimmel said about Moline's two minutes of mayhem, with Derrick Stabler (12 points, seven rebounds) and Drew Owens (eight points, six assists, four steals) both getting steal-and-layup combos in the deciding spurt.
"They'd done a nice job pressuring us, and we turned the tables on them and sped them up. We had some fouls to give there, too, so I figured even if we didn't get any steals or deflections, it was time to get aggressive, and the risk paid off."
Moline also withstood a last-minute Panther comeback, done in by a turnover on a fastbreak and a pair of open 3-point attempts that rimmed in and out.
Indeed, Schimmel was unable to breathe easy until 1.9 seconds remained and big-man Brandon Vice (11 points, 10 rebounds) nailed a pair of free throws for the final tally.
"It's too bad because we play with pressure every day in practice," UT coach Marc Polite said. "That's just the signs of youth sometimes, getting guys in the right spots and getting the right guys to step up and go get the ball.
"We still had our opportunities. The fastbreak we threw away. The missed layup. A couple of open 3-pointers rimmed in and out. We told the guys this after the game, 'We haven't been in that situation much this year.' So this was another awesome learning experience heading into next season, and I guarantee we'll make those plays next season."
Trevor May paced the Panthers with a game-high 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Lamont Mitchell led UT with 8 rebounds. Jed Wood contributed 11 points in the win.
"We had some kids play their hearts out," Polite said. "We have some crushed kids right now. But they'll bounce back. We'll get back in the gym, and we'll be better because of it next season."
The 6-foot-6 Vice was a difference-maker late, too.
Foul trouble and a better Panthers defense held the Moline junior without a shot in the first three quarters. In the final period, though, Vice was 4-for-4 from the field and scored all of his points.
"It was tough to sit there and watch," Vice said. "It was stressful and exciting. But I just needed to bide my time and take advantage when I got my chance."
Vice and the Maroons did just that and now get to play Rock Island again. Moline took their arch-rivals to overtime two weeks ago before falling.
"We were close last time, but this is a new game on a neutral floor," Schimmel said. "It might give us confidence knowing we can play with those guys, but we need to execute like we did the second time we played them, because they're the No. 1 seed for a reason."
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