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Ellsworth boys basketball: Panthers play cat and mouse game with Saints

Ellsworth junior Alex Motley, who scored 15 points against St. Croix Falls, drives to the basket in the second half. (Herald photo by Jalen Knuteson)

ELLSWORTH -- The Panthers attack passing lanes defensively like their next meal depends on it.

Sure, there’s trust there that teammates will help out with help-side defense if they don’t break up a pass. There’s also a little fear knowing that they have to commit to breaking up the pass because if they don’t they may be pulled from the game.

Whatever the case may be, the Ellsworth boys basketball team played aggressively on the defensive end en route to a 50-44 victory over St. Croix Falls in a non-conference game at Ellsworth High School on Friday night.

Coach Tim Dahl had an explanation.

“What fuels it is their desire to fast break and get the ball down on (the offensive end),” Dahl said. “That’s their desire. That’s why they want to play that up-tempo defense, so we can get down here and get some easy looks.”

“We are constantly going for steals and jumping passes,” junior Alex Motley said. “Our coaches preach that all the time. They also say that if you go for it, you better get it.”

The Panthers (2-2) played a game of cat and mouse with the Saints (1-1), having an eight-point lead at half and then pulling out to 39-23 lead; then back down to an 11-point lead.

After Ellsworth pulled out to a 40-25 lead, Croix Falls cut the lead down to seven points.

Ellsworth responded in the next possession. Logan Benson missed a mid-range jumper, Alex Motley attempted to tip it back in off of the backboard, but the shot went to the other block -- almost like a pass -- where Drake Flom finished the sequence with a basket.

That sparked an 8-0 run that gave the Panthers a 50-35 lead with about 90 seconds left in the game.

Within that run, Motley had two fast-break layups and Flom had another basket.

“We believed in ourselves. We weren’t going to lose this game,” senior Mylon Anderson said. “We weren’t going to let ourselves work this hard and then just let it fold in the end.”

Ellsworth also had to make a few adjustments in the second half in order to get in an offensive rhythm.

“The first half, we came out pretty strong, but we were a little sloppy on the offensive end,” said Anderson, who had a 5-point flurry in the second half that gave the Panthers energy. “After a while we started to get our rhythm and started to get more patient with the ball.”

Part of getting into rhythm was how the Panthers were attacking the St. Croix Falls zone defense.

“Coach is always preaching that if we have a three, have it come from the inside out,” Motley said. “If we do that, our percentage should go way up.”

In the second half, Motley, who finished with 15, was directing traffic to make sure either Drake Flom, who finished with 20 points, or Logan Benson, who had a season-low six points, could better facilitate the offense.

The Panthers would penetrate the Saints’ defense with a quick pass into the middle of the zone and then hit different players slashing to the basket.

“We were a little stagnant in the first half,” Dahl said. “We were settling for stationary jump shots instead of shooting off of the move or off of cuts. Alex Motley had a really nice cut through the middle. Drake (Flom) had a nice cut to the free-throw line from the short corner.”

The team that is effective slashing and attacking is the team that can win consistently.

“If we get shots in the lane, we’re a lot better team,” Dahl said. “We have kids who can shoot and we have confidence in the kids that can shoot, but when they aren’t falling, we need to go to plan b. We did that tonight.

“We got better tonight. Every time we hit the floor, if we get better, I’ll be a happy coach.”

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