With the final seconds ticking off the clock, Hannibal’s Lijah Harrison stole a pass and took the ball to the hoop for an easy layup Tuesday night to secure the Pirates’ 68-63 win over Palmyra.
“Coach said lock up on defense,” Harrison said. “Don’t give their shooters anything. I just did what he told me and got a steal and made the play.”
Hannibal coach Matt Pugh was pleased with how Harrison stepped up in the game.
“Hopefully Lijah can use this to get off the schnide a litte bit,” Pugh said. “I know that is kind of cliche, but that is something we have been looking for from him all year and I felt like tonight he kind of turned the corner and hopefully he can continue that.”
With the game tied 48-48 heading into the fourth quarter, the two teams traded the lead back and forth six times before Hannibal took the lead for good on a pair of free throws by Harrison. But even though the Pirates had the lead, it wasn’t safe.
“A big key to that for us was that game was just like almost all of our games all year long,” Pugh said. “That is a situation we have been in 13 times now. So I think as frustrating and up and down as we have been this year, I think that actually helped us tonight.”
Palmyra got within three points, 64-61, with a minute left on the clock when Brock Butler hit a pair of free throws for the Panthers, but 11 seconds later, Harrison went to the line again to extend the Pirates lead to 65-61.
“The kids played hard,” Palmyra coach Brian Meny said. “We just didn’t execute as well as we needed to in the second half. As the coach, I have got to work on that with the kids and make sure we have a full understanding of what needs to take place, especially in the last 20 seconds.”
With 31 seconds left, Butler found the hoop again on a layup to cut the lead to 65-63. But, before the Pirates could inbound the ball, the Panthers fouled Dylan Powell to send him to the charity stripe. At that point, Powell was 3-7 on free throw attempts. Powell missed his first attempt as the crowd cheered but sank the next one to give Hannibal a 66-63 lead.
“Something that we really stress is the defensive end,” Pugh said. “And speaking of the defensive end, I think we did an outstanding job tonight. Obviously we had some break downs here and there, but I felt like we really did a nice job of guarding the ball and helping each other defensively and forcing them into some tough jump shots.”
Meny stressed that the final play wasn’t the reason the Panthers lost.
“In that ball game, even though we were down three, it doesn’t come down to that last play,” Meny said. “We missed some shots and missed some rebounds on the defensive side. To beat a good ball club you have got to do everything right and Hannibal is a good ball club.”
That last play gave the ball back to Palmyra and the Panthers were unable to do anything. While trying to set up a three-point play to tie the game, Harrison came in and stole the ball before scoring the game’s final bucket of the night.
“This is huge for us,” Pugh said. “We talk about one game at a time and focusing more on the process verus the outcome. If we focus on the process, we feel like the outcome will take care of itself.”
Harrison finished the night with 9 points, 7 of which came in the fourth quarter and five of those came from the charity stripe.
“Dalton (Powell) came up to me and told me you better not miss these free throws,” Harrison said. “I just took that to heart and did my best.”
Both teams came out scoring right from the get-go. Hannibal and Palmyra battled to a 20-20 tie after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Palmyra scored another 20 points while holding Hannibal to 14. The Panthers went into the intermission leading 40-34.
But when the third quarter began, it was Hannibal that was running up the points. The Pirates opened the third quarter with a 14-2 run before Palmyra closed out the third quarter with three buckets to re-tie the game.
“That shows growth in an area where we have needed it,” Pugh said. “Our executinon down the stretch in games, up until this point, has been shakey. Not getting the shot we want to get and taking a good shot when we can get a great shot instead.”
For the fourth straight game, Hannibal’s Dalton Powell finished the game with 20-plus points. Dalton Powell scored 12 of his game-high 21 points in the first quarter. Also recording 20-plus points for the second straight game was freshman Dylan Powell. Powell’s final free throw of the night gave him exactly 20 points.
“Dalton and Dylan are both playmakers,” Harrison said. “They get the ball in their hands and they are going to do the work for us. I am just there to fill roles and do what I can.”
Nate Voss also finished the night in double-figures as he contributed 10 points.
The Panthers had three players finish the night in double-figures. Butler led Palmyra with 17 points. Bazil Keller chipped in 16 while Josh Hultz turned in 14 points for the Panthers. Sophomore Trevor Meny just missed double-figures as he contributed 9 points for Palmyra.
“The offensive end at times, is really really good for us,” Meny said. “I thought the first quarter we really moved the basketball well. We shared it and made that extra pass and everything was good. But, the defensive end we have to get better. We know that and that’s what we are really working on.”