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EL PASO – The Panthers couldn’t close out the fifth place game of the McLean County Tournament despite an elevated level of play Saturday afternoon.
No. 9 LeRoy took a 16-8 first quarter lead which shrunk to 32-31 at the half, and ultimately fell 72-65 to the third-ranked Heyworth Hornets at El Paso-Gridley.
“We’re getting better and we have played well the last four or five games and had a great tournament,” LeRoy coach Mark Edmundson said. “We just can’t afford to have a bad four minutes.”
That slow stretch came in the third quarter when a one-point Panther lead evaporated into a 39-32 deficit by the 5:20 mark.
It was a freshman who nearly snapped the Panthers out of the funk, as Caleb Moore nailed a three-pointer at the 4:30 mark then at the 3:41 mark, and came up with an offensive board that nearly yielded another bucket.
“Caleb Moore is a big surprise, I knew he was going to help us, I just didn’t know it was going to be this much,” Edmundson said.
He credited the freshman for more than his ability to score.
“He just has a nose for the ball and is having an excellent season and he does all of the skill things, the things you can control, and he does them really, really well,” Edmundson said.
Moore’s second three-pointer was answered with one from Heyworth, then LeRoy’s Nick Perry answered with a bucket of his own and the Panthers trailed 42-40 at the 2:30 mark of the third.
But Heyworth ended the quarter with a 10-2 run, with only a pair of free throws from Andrew Umstattd breaking up their scoring barrage.
“I liked how we played the entire game except for a stretch of the third quarter,” Edmundson said. “We talked about how we needed to play at both ends, what we couldn’t do and what we needed to do. All in all, we are getting better.”
Despite going into the fourth down 10, the Panthers didn’t quit. Moore, who ended the game with 12 points, scored the first two buckets of the quarter before Heyworth answered with a triple at 6:25 to go up 55-46.
The Hornet lead swelled to 61-50 with just under four minutes left when sophomore Payne Mayfield buried a triple to cut the Panther deficit to 8 at the 3:30 mark. A pair of Will Dooley free throws at the 2:35 mark cut it to six.
With 1:56 left and the Panthers trailing eight, Nick Perry hit a three and was fouled. He’d miss the free throw and the deficit was cut to 63-58.
Minutes later, a Dooley triple cut the deficit to 64-61 at the 1:30 mark, but the LeRoy boys wouldn’t get closer as they ultimately took the 72-65 loss.
Perry once again scored 30, just one game after scoring 37 in a win over Fisher.
He scored 10 of those points in the first quarter and 11 in the second on 9-of-11 shooting from the free throw line in that span.
“Nick is just an incredible offensive player, but he knows he has to get better defensively,” Edmundson said. “And he will. He will also get better at making some better decisions shot-wise.”