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Phillipsburg boys grab rare MCL title

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Phillipsburg High School boys’ basketball coach Keith Sides has noticed a trend this year. The Panthers often have a close margin at halftime. Then, led by Phillipsburg’s talent, athleticism and experience, the Panthers have a big second half, especially in the third quarter. That juncture has helped Phillipsburg rise to No. 5 in Class 3A and stay undefeated at 12-0.

On Saturday, Phillipsburg used a strong third quarter to pull away from Plainville and win a rare Mid-Continent League tournament championship with a 65-48 victory at Gross Memorial Coliseum. It was the Panthers’ first league crown since 1975, easily the longest drought of any current conference team.

“Our second half has been really good to us,” Sides said. “Our third quarter, a lot of these games, they can turn from a four-point game to 14 or more than that after the third quarter. The third quarter, guys have really come out and put points up, and played well in the third quarters.”

Phillipsburg outscored Plainville 26-14 in the third quarter. Against Ellis in the semifinals, the Panthers had a 25-14 third quarter en route to a 22-point victory.

“We have had some groups that had been close to winning, but couldn’t quite pull them out,” Sides said. “These guys have played a lot for me the last three years, so it’s really nice to see us win it tonight.”

Phillipsburg is now tied with Stockton for third-most titles in league annals. Since 1975, the Panthers have made the finals just twice before this year, in ’02 and ’05.

“It means a lot just to me and my team,” senior Seth Derr said. “It brings the basketball tradition back to Phillipsburg and it just means a lot to play in the championship game.”

Phillipsburg, the No. 1 seed, won the three tournament contests by 18, 22 and 17 points. The Panthers have had just one single-digit victory, a 61-53 victory against Claflin-Central Plains on Dec. 7. The Panthers quickly opened their lead in the second half with five points in the first 32 seconds, including a Derr steal and layup.

“Fast breaks – we get a rebound, we look to kick it out really fast and just get going down the court, and when they make it, we try to get it out of the net as fast as we can,” Derr said. “…Just the talent that we have on this team, and just the depth that we have, we don’t have a problem of subbing anyone in. We just have a great bunch of guys.”

Derr and senior Tad Thompson tallied 16 points, while senior Sean Newlan finished with 15 points.

“It’s pretty frustrating here,” Plainville coach Lonnie Weiser said. “We can play pretty good defense here the majority of the time, but when we get up against a team that’s got that many (scorers), we kind of struggle.”

Plainville received 18 points from junior Hadley Gillum and 13 from senior Nolan Weiser, the Cardinals’ top two scorers. Plainville, the two-time defending tourney champion, dropped to 10-2.