PHILLIPSBURG — Simply put, the Monarchs ran out of gas.
That can happen going up against the top team in Class 3A on its home floor.
Especially going against a team known for getting up and down the floor from start to finish as the Phillipsburg High School boys’ basketball team has done in its 16-1 campaign.
That was the case Friday night as the Panthers sent visiting Thomas More Prep-Marian packing with a 79-61 loss in what both sides agreed was a second matchup of possibly the two best teams in the Mid-Continent League.
“Got out to a good start and played solid defense,” Phillipsburg coach Keith Sides said. “TMP had a really good second quarter and got them back in it.
“I’m proud of the guys coming out in the second half and challenged them, and did things right.”
A good start might be putting it mildly. Like they have all season, the Panthers came out and ran the floor, using their pressure to build up a 15-7 lead with a 12-0 run. Phillipsburg’s fast-paced, layup style eventually led to a 27-9 lead midway through the second quarter.
“We spotted them almost 20, just a lot of mistakes and ultimately we finally got it going,” TMP coach Joe Hertel said.
But the damage had been done, the coach said, and his Monarchs had to use so much energy to get back in it, there wasn’t enough in the tank.
The Monarchs went on an 18-4 run and cut the lead to four points by halftime.
“They have the experience and they have the size and quickness,” Sides said of TMP, which eventually cut the lead to two points in the third quarter. “That’s a solid team. Two good MCL teams here tonight.”
However, that’s as close as the Monarchs got to taking a lead.
“It was just about some guys with enough pride that were just tired of what was going on,” Hertel said of the run. “We made a few stops and really challenged them hard at the rim, blocked a few shots, rebounded well and made some shots on the other end.”
The Panthers, though, fueled by junior Trey Sides’ big night at the free throw line, outscored TMP 25-12 the rest of the quarter to take back control. Sides ended the night with 20 points with 16 of them coming at the free throw line as Phillipsburg moved to 16-1 overall and 8-0 in MCL play. TMP fell to 11-5 and 6-1.
“We haven’t actually shot a lot of free throws,” Sides said. “We haven’t really been challenged at the rim like TMP challenged us. It was a physical game and I was glad we got to the foul line more.”
When each side cleared its bench with a minute left, the physicality of the game could be seen on their faces. TMP’s group was visibily exhausted as time expired. Phillipsburg often runs players in and out and can go 12 deep on the bench.
“We expended so much energy and used to much gas to get back in the game in the first half, that any little spurt they had in the second half, we just couldn’t answer,” Hertel said. “They’re a good ball club a and they just stretched it out on us and we didn’t have any answer.”
On paper, the game likely decided the MCL’s regular-season championship. The Panthers already own the tournament title, defeating the Monarchs 66-42 in January. The teams also head to separate 3A sub-states in March.