Lenoir City High School Panthers head basketball coach Josh Brannon expected the team to carry over the success achieved in the first half of the season into January.
And he was right in the first week back after beating the Knoxville Ambassadors 60-30 on Jan. 5 and rallying from behind to escape with a 49-47 win Thursday against the Sequoyah High School Chiefs.
“Right now everything is good,” Brannon said. “We’re four games back and we’re looking at 2-2, and three of those four games have been against really, really good opponents. It’s only going to continue to make us better, and it’s good for our guys to get back in the gym and playing again. I think they’ve responded well, but we’ve just got to continue to carry over nights of adversity, like Monday night and Friday night against some tough opponents.”
The Panthers trailed the Chiefs by three points throughout most of the game, but a big fourth quarter effort made the difference. Lenoir City outscored Sequoyah 16-12 in the final eight minutes behind senior Scory Correa’s 10-point charge.
The Chiefs tied the game 47-47 with a minute left, but sophomore Parker Tramell and senior David Ross capitalized on three free throws to secure the win.
“That Sequoyah win is a special one for me since that’s where I played, but our guys competed their tails off and found a way to win,” Brannon said. “Our guys have been in some close games against some good opponents, and so I just thought it was important as we were about to hit a tough portion of the schedule to give us a little juice moving into that confidence-wise. I can’t say enough positive things about the way they finished that Sequoyah game out, I mean, that was a big, physical ... that was a man’s game right there.”
The Panthers followed up Friday and Monday with tough losses to two of the top District 4-3A teams in Farragut and Bearden, respectively.
Lenoir City fought hard in the first quarter against Bearden before the Bulldogs overpowered the Panthers down the stretch and won 72-37.
“There were some things matchup-wise that were challenges and we knew that it was going to be a challenge at hand, but I felt for the most part that our guys competed at a much higher level than we did coming off of Friday night against Farragut,” Brannon said. “I thought there were some good things at times, some moments, but it was just hard to sustain tonight. They did some good stuff to kind of make our offense a little choppy, make it a little difficult at times with their ability to defend and just their overall physicality, but that’s just part of it. We’ll just keep trying to get better and the next time we see them, we’ll have another opportunity to go out there and prove it.”
Since coming back from Christmas break, one of the biggest impact players has been Tramell. He led the Panthers with 16 points in the win against Sequoyah and had eight points against Bearden.
He played sparingly last season as a freshman but has since become a more complete post player.
“I just think I’ve gotten a lot more confident with my game,” Tramell said. “Those first few games of the season, I played a little bit more jittery. But like I’ve also said before, I think getting stronger in the offseason helped and I think I can play with about anybody now. It’s just really helped my confidence and helped me become a better player all around.”
The Panthers missed nearly three weeks of playing time in December after COVID-19 issues within the locker room, but Brannon believes the team is close to being back full strength.
The team will continue to be without starting junior forward Mason Guider, who has a lower leg injury, for the unforeseeable future. Sophomore Camden Carter has stepped in and played valuable minutes in the paint.
“We’ve got some guys that are beaten up, banged up, and missing Mason has required everybody to step up,” Brannon said. “Hopefully, we can get everybody back sooner rather than later. You’re going to have things occur and injuries and things happen during the course of the season, so we’ve got to continue to improve and everybody just continue to develop. When those things do happen, we’ve got somebody waiting in the wings ready to step in and get some action.”
The Panthers improve to 8-4 overall and 2-3 in district play. The next game will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Maryville High School.
“I think our message is that we can play with anybody,” Tramell said. “The last two teams, they’ve been really strong and tough teams, they’ve been good teams. Against Farragut, we had a little bit of a lapse and it reminded us that we’ve got to continue to keep working hard. As long as we continue to work and put our best into it, we can continue to win games and do the same. There’s nothing changing so far, we’re just going to keep the hammer down.”