A big night for Dr. Phillips' Riley Kugel and Denzel Aberdeen pushes the Panthers to their first regional-final appearance in 10 years.
For the third-straight matchup it came down to the wire between rivals Dr. Phillips and Olympia, as the Panthers managed to outlast the visiting Titans in a narrow 47-45 win in the Class 7A, Region 1 semifinals Tuesday, Feb. 23.
Following a first half that got tighter as it went on, both the Panthers (21-3) and Titans (21-7) put on a show in the second half that has become familiar this season. In the previous two matchups — both of which saw Dr. Phillips squeak out a win — the rivalry game had required overtime to settle things. Tuesday night did not see overtime, but it did have another stressful end.
Down 41-39 with 7:49 left in the game, Dr. Phillips' Riley Kugel pulled up from deep to drain a three and put the Panthers up 42-41, before Olympia's E.J. "Jizzle" James knocked down a two to retake the lead for the Titans at 43-42. That would be the last lead the Titans would hold as a bucket from Denzel Aberdeen and Kugel would seal up a game that was also made more stressful by missed free throws by the Panthers late in the game.
"It was just a hard fought game — it's a battle every time with them," said Panthers head coach Ben Witherspoon. "I'm proud of our guys sticking together. (Olympia) did some good things offensively against our zone, but our guys stuck together and didn't panic."
In the win for the Panthers both Kugel and Aberdeen picked up 16 points, while James led the way for all scorers with a game high of 25 points.
With the victory Dr. Phillips pushed its winning streak to 10-straight games against Olympia, and is currently enjoying a nine-game winning streak going into the regional final — the Panthers first since 2011 — against Seminole. That game will take place at Dr. Phillips on Friday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m.
"It's lots of film, lots of shooting and lots of free throws," Witherspoon said on the game plan between now and Friday. "They're a great team with great players and they have a lot of experience and make deep runs year after year, so it's going to be a tough game for us on Friday."
Nate Marrero contributed to this story