WEST FRANKFORT – His defender having stumbled, West Frankfort’s Noah Allen finally had space and started a drive to the lane.
But before Allen could think about a shot, a Pinckneyville man quickly cut him off and forced him to pass. A few more ineffective passes later, the Panthers had forced a turnover and turned it into points.
It was that kind of mindset that coach Bob Waggoner sought in the regular season finale, and it was that kind of mindset that rendered their non-conference visit to West Frankfort a rout before halftime.
Dictating from the opening tip with fierce defense, Pinckneyville achieved a 74-36 verdict at Max Morris Gym.
A dozen players scored for the Panthers (27-2), led by Grant Jausel’s game-high 20 points, as they drilled 10 3-pointers and looked ready for what Waggoner hopes is a long postseason run.
“Twenty-four hours made a big difference,” he said. “We were more aggressive, had an increased tempo, shot our 3-pointers in rhythm.”
That wasn’t the case Friday night, when Pinckneyville made just 3-of-16 from distance and was fortunate to escape with a 43-40 SIRR Mississippi win over Carterville. While Waggoner said after that game that his guys were thinking about the postseason, he also wanted a different response for this one.
So he approached it like it was Tuesday night, when the Panthers will play their postseason opener at the Class 2A Trico Regional.
“As far as we were concerned, it was the first game of the state series,” he said. “We’re not going to have the luxury of a play-in game like some schools do. We wanted to treat this game like our season was on the line.”
Message received. Pinckneyville kept the Redbirds (9-17) off the board until the 1:06 mark of the first quarter, when Austin Glodich sank a free throw to interrupt a 14-0 spurt.
West Frankfort didn’t make its first field goal until 6:38 remained in the first half, by which time it trailed 21-3. It never got any better, as the Panthers canned 70 percent of their field goals in the half and drilled a total of 10 3s for the night.
The margin reached 45-11 at halftime and 60-18 midway through the third quarter. Even after third-teamers flooded the floor for both teams, Pinckneyville was still hounding ballhandlers and making crisp backcuts for layups.
Kyle Luke added 12 for the Panthers, which get the Vienna/Anna-Jonesboro survivor on Tuesday night. The only negative for Pinckneyville was that senior Tyler Rulevish left in the second quarter with a leg injury. His status for Tuesday night isn’t known.
Allen and Brendan Russell scored seven points each for the Redbirds.