HUTCHINSON — They’ve played in big games before.
So performing under a little bit of pressure was nothing new for the Phillipsburg High School boys’ basketball team.
If there were any nerves in the school’s first state appearance since the 1973 season, it never showed.
The Panthers displayed all the confidence in the world at a rowdy Hutchinson Sports Arena in Wednesday’s Class 3A state opener.
The Panthers put up one of their better shooting performances in a half this season, steamrolling Thomas More Prep-Marian 67-44 to sweep a three-game series against the Monarchs this season.
“These guys have been in so many big games, football, basketball, everything,” said Panther head coach Keith Sides. “Just a little different stage. They’re pretty calm kids.”
That’s probably saying a lot, considering the last time the school saw a team on this stage was the year Sides was born. That was the only thing he could come up with to explain to his club just how long it has been.
The Panthers weren’t going to wait all that long to proved they belonged.
Phillipsburg knocked down eight first-half 3-pointers, three coming from junior Trey Sides, and once the Panthers got rolling, it never really was that close.
“We were knocking down a lot of 3s, a lot of good shots,” said Trey Sides, who scored a game-high 15 points (only two coming after halftime). “When you’re shooting that well, it could be hard to beat us.”
TMP found that out the hard way, suffering its third loss to the Panthers this season to end a senior-laden year with a 17-6 mark.
“They got hot,” Monarch coach Joe Hertel said of Phillipsburg, “When you shoot it well, it seems like everything goes well.”
Things started going well midway through the first quarter for the Panthers (22-1). They knocked down two 3s and led 20-12 by the end of the first quarter. By the midway point of the second, Phillipsburg doubled up its MCL foe, 32-15, and by halftime it was 45-26.
“TMP made good shots early,” Coach Sides said. “The guys kind of rebounded and found a way to answer.”
The hot run was even more impressive, considering the Panthers haven’t shot the ball all that well, something Hertel had hoped would continue.
“We chose to guard the lane a little bit more,” Hertel said. “Eight out of 13 (3s) in the first half, there’s just no way we can overcome that.”
Jordan Ford finished with 14 points for Phillipsburg and freshman Ty Sides had 10. TMP was led by senior Michael Lager, who scored 11 points in his final game.
Phillipsburg took its foot off the pedal in the second half, more running the clock than choosing to attack, essentially coasting its way to a semifinal matchup, also a first since the 1973 season.
Earlier in the week, the Panthers had a visitor that played on the last team to make state. Howard King spoke about Phillipsburg’s back-to-back trips, including when TMP beat the Panthers for third in 1972.
“He just said to ‘give it all you got. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’ ” Trey Sides said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”