HUTCHINSON — The Panthers did almost everything right.
In a tense situation, the Phillipsburg High School boys’ basketball team battled back to tie things up twice in the closing minutes.
The Panthers just couldn’t get the defensive stop it needed in the closing seconds.
Halstead hit the game-winning layup as time expired, handing the Panthers a 44-42 loss in Saturday’s Class 3A state championship game at Hutchinson Sports Arena.
Halstead’s Braden Gerber, who made the game-winner, was a bit surprised he got such a good look.
“They did seem pretty spread out on it,” said Gerber, whose winning bucket gave him six points for the game. “It actually was supposed to go to (Kason O’Neal).”
The thrilling finish came after Phillipsburg battled back from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter to tie the game with 5.6 seconds left on a layup by Trey Sides.
Sides also had hit a 3-pointer just a minute earlier to tie the game at 40.
“Just couldn’t make enough big plays to get over the hump and get ahead,” said Phillipsburg coach Keith Sides, whose team was in a state title game for the first time in school history. “We were just always scrapping, fighting and clawing for everything.”
For the second consecutive night, the Panthers got off to a bit of a slow start, trailing the Dragons early, but held a one-point lead at the 7 minute, 53 second mark of the second quarter. It was the only lead Phillipsburg had all night and lasted for 1:38.
It was a struggle all night, offensively, though, against a just-as-quick, longer team in Halstead. Plus, the Panthers made just 2 of 6 free throws in the first half, while the Dragons were a perfect 4 for 4, and led 22-14 at halftime.
“Just longer and just as quick,” Coach Sides said of Halstead, which won the school’s sixth state title and the first since 2001. “They were solid, just a solid ball club.”
Despite the deficit, though, Phillipsburg managed to climb back in. Halstead led by 11 at the 6:07 mark of the third quarter, but by the 32-second mark, the Panthers had narrowed it to five on a move to the basket by Jordan Ford.
With 5:13 to play in the game, Kyle Pakkebier put in a short jumper to make it a two-point game, and it was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way.
“Missed free throws and missed some shots we should have had,” Coach Sides said. “Give them credit. They played well tonight.”
The Panthers had a chance, though. After Trey Sides hit the layup that tied the game, Halstead was set up with 6.7 seconds and the full length of the court. The Dragons took a timeout and drew up a play. It didn’t go as planned.
“They played off,” Gerber said. “It could have gone to anyone honestly. Anyone could have made the play.”
Ty Sides, who had two 3s early, finished with 10 points to lead Phillipsburg, which ended its season at 23-2. Trey Sides had nine, as did Chris VanKooten. O’Neal led Halstead with 15 points.