LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- Midway through the third period of the first round boys' game at the Comcast Christmas Tournament, the Ridgeland Panthers appeared well on their way to an early-season signature win.
The Panthers' opponent, though, was not in the mood to be anyone's highlight. Coosa rallied from a 10-point deficit to tie the game at the end of the period, then pulled away for a 72-60 win. The Eagles (8-1) used an unrelenting full-court press to turn the tide against a frustrated Ridgeland team that has struggled against pressure all season.
"We were up 10 and just couldn't put them away," Panthers coach David Stoker said. "We had several opportunities, but we couldn't cash them in, and then the pressure got to us. We struggle against the full-court press and we're going to have to improve or we're going to have a hard time. We've got to learn how to handle it."
Two Darrell Bridges free throws put the Panthers (5-6) ahead 40-30 three minutes into the second half, but the Eagles took off when Stoker decided to rest point guard Jalen Smith and Bridges picked up his fourth foul. Over the final five minutes the Panthers committed 12 turnovers, including three consecutive miscues that led to two layups by Coosa's Slade Shumate.
Shumate scored 19 of his game-high 29 points in the second half, and he followed his back-to-back layups with a midrange jump shot and a 3-pointer to tie the game at 42. Already stunned, the Panthers were further hindered when leading scorer Vonn Bell picked up his fourth foul with under a minute to play in the period.
Christian McFather hit two 3-pointers -- his only points of the game -- to spark a 10-3 run to start the final period, and by the time Bridges and Bell returned to the game, the deficit was 12. The Panthers managed to trim the lead to seven on a Bell layup off a Smith steal, but the Eagles did not let them get any closer.
"We had to do something different when we were down 10," Coosa coach John McFather said. "We like to play fast, so we upped the pressure and started causing turnovers. We play better at that pace and intensity level. We had one or two guys playing hard and the rest were flat. That seemed to change the energy."
Bell topped Ridgeland (5-6) with 13 points, with Smith and Sharone Porter adding 10 each.
"It was not a great showing in the second half," said a frustrated Stoker. "The kids are disappointed, too, and we'll see how they respond tomorrow. That will be the key."
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...