Guards Waren Thomas Olmstead, Judson Smith and Austin Adkins sparked a 17-0 Heber Springs run to start the second quarter as Panthers took a commanding lead and cruised past lake area rival Clinton 35-20 in the 2-4A Conference opener at the Panther Den.
Still missing two returning starters from last season ¬ forward Michael Kramer and center Mason Schroeder ¬ the Panthers are using stifling, hard-nosed defense and timely shooting to fill their frontcourt void.
Kyzer said the Panthers' defense should be even better once Kramer and Schroeder return. “We have three starters back from last season and two of them are sitting over there with me so right now our goal is to survive,” said Heber Coach Kevin Kyzer.
“We are missing two of our best three defensive players along with Judson [Smith]. If we can get another conference win in eight days against Stuttgart we should be at full force again in January when we get everybody back,” Kyzer said, adding that Kramer could play in next week's game against the Ricebirds.
Down 6-5 entering the second quarter, the Panthers used a 17-0 spurt to take control, beginning with a deep three-pointer from right wing by Adkins, who launched the shot over the outstretched arms of Clinton forward Ethan Branscum.
After Olmstead swiped a steal and scored, Smith buried a three-pointer from left elbow, pushing the Panthers' lead to 13-6 and causing Clinton to burn a timeout.
Following the break in action, Heber completed its crushing run with nine consecutive as forward Aaron Brown spun around a defender and dished to Olmstead for a layup and Smith ripped a three-pointer up top in transition.
Olmstead added a spectacular acrobatic shot in heavy traffic and Adkins canned a pair of free throws before the 'Jackets finally broke their drought with 1:11 remaining in the first half on a free throw from center Marcus
Miles, who added two more from the stripe in the final minute, leaving Heber with a 22-9 lead at halftime.
Kyzer said the Panthers spread the floor in the second quarter, using a play called “Northwestern” to aid their game-changing run. “We basically just spread the floor out and got in a zone offense. When I say 'Northwestern' they know they've got to move and cut. We just got a lot more movement and got it to the high post more.
“That motion gets you into a rhythm. We like to play fast, get our transition going and get our flow going. They try and slow you down. Our comfort level is playing fast but our timing is just not there right now and we've got to get it going really quick before we play Stuttgart,” added Kyzer.
With under a minute to play in the first quarter, Clinton took a 6-5 lead on a free throw by Miles, who threw down a two-handed slam for the visitors' first basket. Heber outscored the 'Jackets 17-3 in the second period for a 22-9 advantage at intermission.
Page 2 of 2 - Clinton whittled its deficit to eight by outscoring Heber 11-6 in the third quarter as Miles scored nine points and forward Daniel Beavers added a bucket, while Brown helped the Panthers maintain a comfortable lead with a floater in the lane followed by a deep three-pointer from left wing.
After Brown's three, the 'Jackets closed the third quarter with an 8-1 spurt, pulling within eight heading into the final eight minutes of play.
Heber sealed the game by opening the fourth quarter with two quick baskets as forward Spencer Grogan drained a three-pointer from right wing then Brown drove left baseline and finished with an amazing reverse layup. Grogan added a stick back for the final bucket. Both teams went scoreless for the final five minutes while playing a mixture of reserves and regulars.
Miles scored a game-high 15 points for Clinton (0-6, 0-1). Adkins led Heber (4-2, 1-0) with 11 points and Brown followed with seven, while Olmstead and Smith each finished with six.