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By Anthony Jones
On Mar. 7, 2003, Triad basketball won their ninth ever Regional in a 53-49 victory over the Jersey Panthers. Their 2003 campaign would result in the program’s first and only Sectional title a week later.
It would take another 20 years before the Knights would win another Regional, with that win coming last Friday on Feb. 24 in Civic Memorial. Their plaque earning victory came against a familiar face: Jersey.
The two teams had met just seven days prior, with Triad winning with a running clock in a 50-23, but the Panthers enacted a new strategy in their rematch.
“Hats off to them, they came out with a really good game plan with the triangle two defense and we struggled a little bit. They really wanted to hang on to the ball, but we just had to make plays down the stretch,” Coach Guidry spoke of Jersey’s strategy.
The Panther’s slow pace proved effective in the first quarter, as Triad needed a pair of late buckets to take an 8-6 lead.
Jersey moved ahead 9-8 after scoring the first basket of the second, but what ensued was the biggest run of the night. The Knights tallied 10 consecutive points, thanks in large part to upped defensive pressure.
The Mississippi Valley Conference foes traded triples to close out the half, including a corner shot from Aydin Hitt that led to a halftime tally of 21-12. Drew Winslow led Triad in scoring with 6 points at the midway point.
Jersey reverted back to their methodical pace out of the half and hit a pair of long balls to claw their deficit down to just 21-18. However, this proved to be the closest the Panthers would get for the remainder of the night.
By the end of the third, Triad regrew their advantage to 29-19. A dominant fourth quarter, featuring 10 made free throws for the Knights, gave them a final score of 42-25.
Winslow led the victors with 13 points, while McGrady Noyes added 10 and AJ Mills scored 7 more in the win.
Coach Guidry remarked on the drought ending win, “I’m just really happy for these kids tonight and for the community. When I got here, I said this is something we can do and I think a lot of people didn’t think that would be possible. But we’ve had a process, we followed it and we got the job done.”
Earlier in the week, the Knights defeated Civic Memorial in the opening round of the postseason. This Feb. 22 contest was played on the Eagles home court.
Less than a month prior, Triad running clocked Civic Memorial in a 65-31 final. Much like the Panthers did later in the week, the Eagles changed tactics for a tougher rematch.
“It was just what you’d call a good old backyard rock fight. They obviously wanted to play a physical game to try to contain us to a certain extent. It was pretty clear from the get-go, there were situations where they were fouling before we got to the hoop for a layup, a lot of shoving and a lot of pushing,” Guidry described the hard nosed style the Eagles employed.
Their tough play paid early dividends, jumping out to a 9-4 lead. Triad closed their deficit to 9-8 at the end of the quarter, largely thanks to 6 points from Noyes.
Six points from Winslow provided a much needed spark for the Knights to take the lead at 14-13. Both teams continued to trade blows before Triad took a 20-17 lead into intermission.
Thanks in large part to seven foot senior Sam Buckley’s presence at the rim, Civic Memorial found better defensive footing in the second half. They limited the visitors to just three points in the third and tied the contests at 23-23.
As both teams looked for a spark to their offense, Triad’s Mills provided one with a corner three. A subsequent three point play from Jake Stewart pushed the conference champions ahead 29-23.
Civic Memorial would not draw within three points for the remainder of the evening and ultimately fell 43-30.
Winslow led the Knights in scoring, a feat even more impressive considering he missed playing time from blood on his uniform.
“In a varsity game, there’s really no time to think about that. You’ve just got to get over it,” the sophomore talked of keeping focused after being kept off the court.
Triad’s postseason victories advanced them to the Sectional semi-final round at Centralia High School. The Knights will meet Mt. Vernon in that Mar. 1 matchup.
Triad benefits from having defeated the Rams earlier in the year in a 56-48 final. That experience is fairly dated however, as it was the Knight’s season opener.
A win in their postseason rematch would advance Triad to the Sectional final on Mar. 3. Their opponent in that matchup would be either Centralia or East St. Louis.