When Dr. Phillips needed its playmakers the most, they answered the call every time during the Panthers' tough 60-56 win over Windermere in both teams' regular-season finales Tuesday, Feb. 2.
After being down for most of the first half, the Panthers (17-3) went into the break facing a 27-22 deficit — a deficit that would grow to 33-24 in the first two minutes of the third quarter after Windermere (14-5) went on a 6-2 run. Slowly, but surely, the Panthers began to slowly chip away before entering a wild fourth quarter.
"Windermere did a great job of taking us out of our stuff — they kept us out of rhythm for the first three quarters," said Dr. Phillips head coach Ben Witherspoon. "(In the) fourth quarter we just had to open things up and space the floor better and get better ball movement. They were guarding our initial action so well, we just needed the ball more — from side-to-side."
After struggling offensively with turnovers and missed shots in the first half due to that stingy Windermere defense, the Panthers found their scoring touch in the second half with junior Riley Kugel picking up 11 of his team-high 18 points during the half, while juniors Ernest Udeh (11 points) and Denzel Aberdeen (14 points) also picked up huge chunks of their point totals late.
With 4:20 left in the game, Aberdeen would get the friendly bounce on his shot to knot the game up at 47-47 — the first tie since it was 9-9 in the first quarter — before Windermere senior Kanye Jones knocked down a three almost immediately after. Just as quickly as Jones — who finished the night with 24 points — had put the Wolverines up 50-47, Kugel came right down court and buried a three himself to tie the game at 50-50 with about three minutes to go.
Over the span of the next two minutes, both schools would exchange leads, before clutch free throws from freshman Jordan Tillery and Udeh helped push the Panthers to the 60-56 win.
Along with a big scoring night for Jones, teammate and fellow senior Trey Moss added 23 points in the loss for the Wolverines
With the regular season now completed, both Dr. Phillips and Windermere will rest up as they get ready to compete in their respective district playoffs beginning next week. The Panthers will be the No. 1 seed in the Class 7A, District 3 tournament at Olympia, and will have a first-round bye before taking on the winner of Apopka/Evans. Meanwhile Windermere will also have a first-round bye as the No. 1 seed in the Class 7A, District 6 tournament and will host the winner of East Ridge/Haines City.
"Our district is definitely the toughest in the state and we're prepared for battle because of the schedule we played," Witherspoon said. "We're going to have to do everything we can to win both of those games — there are just so many good teams in our district. It's good to get today's win — to beat one of the best teams in the state — because it let's us know that we have a chance to play with anybody."