JAMESTOWN – In a sport where superior individual efforts have been known to derail championship aspirations, Panama reminded a vocal crowd at Jamestown Community College that playing exceptional all-around team basketball is still the best way to earn a crowning moment.
The Panthers most certainly did that Friday night.
Panama captured its first Section VI Class D title since 2012 by defeating second-seeded Ellicottville, 56-36, before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,400. Chris Blose led three Panthers in double figures, scoring 19 points as top-seeded Panama extended its winning streak to a remarkable 20 in a row.
What’s more unbelievable? The streak or the fact the Panthers at one point had a 1-2 record?
“These guys are doing something special,” said Panama coach Ed Nelson, who believes the school record for wins in a season is 19. “They’re a lot of fun to coach. … It’s fun to watch those guys play.”
The Panthers (21-1) will face the Section V champion at noon March 5 at Buffalo State Sports Arena in the Far West Regional.
About that 1-2 start …
Panama lost by seven in its season opener at Chautauqua Lake, a Section VI Class C-1 finalist, and dropped a two-point verdict on the road at perennially strong Randolph. It should be noted that Chautauqua Lake is also among the victims during the Panthers’ 20-game win streak.
Did Nelson change anything after the slow start back in December?
“You want to know what changed up? We went to practice and competed every day,” he said. “We learned how to compete harder and went to work.”
Panama trailed 10-5 as the Eagles surged ahead with a hot-shooting start. That’s the best Ellicottville shot in any stretch as it struggled to make open looks, though 6-foot-4 sophomore Elliot Bowen (18 points) did his best to keep his side in it, scoring 10 of his team’s 19 first-half points. Panama, which also had some shooting struggles, led 11-10 after the first quarter and 23-19 at the break.
The Panthers pulled away during the final five minutes of the third quarter. Leading 28-23, Panama used a 9-0 run to create a comfortable cushion, with Jack Payne providing the spark with a driving pull-up jumper.
After a putback by Josh Odell (13 points), Payne drained a three-pointer and followed with a steal and layup to make it 37-23.
“Any given night any of the guys we have out there can do something special and tonight Jack knocked down some big shots for us in the third quarter,” Nelson said.
Bowen, one of three sophomores to receive lots of playing time for Ellicottville, seemed to be the only Eagle able to score in this one as they struggled to even sink the makeable shots. He scored 12 of his team’s 15 points in one stretch.
“Tough night shooting,” Ellicottville coach Dave McCann said. “I really feel bad for our seniors. … On the flip side, for the sophomores this is the beginning of the road.”
Blose’s putback jam with 2:25 left all but sealed the deal, making it 50-31 Panthers and prompting the fans to erupt with their loudest cheers of the evening.
“You play defense it doesn’t matter what you score,” Nelson said. “The boys still found a way to get it done. I’m proud of them.”