The Montezuma-Cortez High School Panthers boys basketball team flashed potential en route to a second-place finish at the Cortez Tournament.
After looking slightly sluggish early in their opener against Shiprock’s junior varsity team on Dec. 6, the Panthers came together in the second half and pulled away for a 71-41 victory.
Plagued by turnovers and sloppy play early on, the Panthers led 13-12 after the first quarter and 27-21 at the end of two.
Looking like a different team in the second half, the Panthers came out on fire and scored 25 points in the third quarter to lead 50-33.
Keying the Panthers strong third quarter was senior guard Brackin Whiteskunk who scored 13 points of his game-high 25 points during the frame.
“We really picked things up in the second half,” said Whiteskunk. “We started playing like we can. We came together as a team.”
Supporting Whiteskunk’s big game, senior Jaron Carver chipped in 10 points, juniors Taylor Wilson and Jonathan Walck each scored nine, and senior Briston Walker chipped in eight.
“We started being aggressive in the second half,” explained Panthers head coach Dusty DeBoer. “We shot a lot of free throws because we took it to the basket and got fouled.”
Hoping to claim the tournament championship with a victory over Monticello on Dec. 7, the Panthers were plagued by a lack of discipline, losing 65-47.
After falling behind 19-15 in the first quarter, the Panthers scored 10 points in the second quarter to enter the half trailing 32-25.
Disaster struck in the third quarter as the Panthers were outscored 15-5.
Although the Panthers tried to hang tough, a technical foul on senior Brackin Whiteskunk proved costly as the Panthers star was forced to the bench with five fouls.
Scoring a game-high 25 points for Monticello was Austin Maloy, who attacked the rim and proved to be a tough matchup for Panthers guards.
Leading the way for the Panthers, Whiteskunk and junior Taylor Wilson each chipped in 13.
Asked what his team must improve on before its game against Delta on Dec. 10, DeBoer keyed on his team’s mental approach.
“We have to improve our mental toughness,” said DeBoer. “Our game play is pretty solid, and our players are pretty solid. We just need to make sure that we play an entire game competently.”