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Panama boys basketball returning to state Final Four in Class D

GREECE — Panama boys basketball coach Ed Nelson acknowledged lefty sharpshooter Jack Sperry was “due.”

Nelson said Sperry was “shooting like 20 percent” in the seven games leading up to Saturday’s Class D Far West Regionals between the Panthers and Section V’s Belfast at Greece Athena High School.

Sperry broke out of his slump in a big way, on a grand stage.

The senior guard hit six 3-pointers and scored a team-high 19 points, leading Panama to a 56-51 victory.

“I knew he would come through,” said Nelson, whose team reached the state semifinals with the win for the second time in four years. “He’s been working all offseason on that perimeter shot.

"I knew he was due, and I’m glad it was tonight that he decided to knock a bunch down.”

Sperry wasted no time in announcing his recent shooting woes were behind him. Four of his triples came in the first quarter, pushing the Panthers (18-6) to a 19-14 edge after one.

He hit another 3 while getting fouled in the last second of the first half, and proceeded to finish the four-point play to send Panama into the break with a 33-25 lead.

Sperry’s sixth and final 3-pointer helped put away Belfast (18-7). It broke a 47-47 tie with less than four minutes to play. Teammate Dominic Spontaneo followed with a 3 on the next possession to stretch the Panthers’ lead to six.

Their defense, which held Belfast to 27 percent shooting, closed it out from there.

“I haven’t been hitting a lot of shots lately, so it’s been rough,” Sperry said. “We knew they were going to run a 2-3 (zone) so I came out and I was thinking I could probably tear it apart. After I made that first 3, it was game on.”

Sperry’s hot shooting night couldn’t have come at a better time. With leading scorer Cameron Barmore held to six points, Sperry, Spontaneo (12 points, seven rebounds) and Mitch Hovey (six points, 10 assists) helped pick up Panama on the offensive end.

Barmore found other ways to contribute and finished with 17 rebounds.

The win was the Panthers’ 15th in their last 16 games.

Nelson lauded his team’s mettle for withstanding a second-half surge by Belfast, led by star guard Adam Enders’ game-high 39 points. The Panthers never trailed, despite the Bulldogs' tying it up four times in the final quarter. Panama’s defense battled long enough for its shooters to hit the game-deciding 3-pointers.

“It was about mental toughness,” Nelson said. “It’s the first thing we talked about in the locker room. We knew Adam was going to knock some shots down and we just kept grinding every single possession. They kept making defensive stops when we needed to and kept executing the offense when we needed to.”

The Panthers will play in the state semifinals against Section VII’s Wells, a 57-40 winner against Section II's Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville, at 12:45 p.m. Saturday at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton.

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