Pelham advances to Sweet 16 for 4th year in a row

Published 9:02 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

ALEXANDER CITY – Leading by one entering the final quarter with the season on the line, the Pelham Panthers faced one of their most pressure-packed moments of the 2022-2023 basketball season at Benjamin Russell on Tuesday, Feb. 14, and they delivered.

Pelham saved one of its best quarters of the season for the fourth quarter of the sub-regional matchup with the Wildcats, clicking on both ends of the floor to not only hold off a comeback attempt but pull away for a 68-56 victory that sent the Panthers to the Sweet 16 for the fourth year in a row.

They led 46-45 at the end of the third quarter and Benjamin Russell quickly tied the game within the first two minutes of the final quarter at 48-48 before the game became a physical defensive battle for the next two minutes.

Pelham, however, pulled in front at 50-48 midway through the quarter, and that flipped a switch. The Panthers went on to outscore Benjamin Russell 18-8 over the final four minutes of the game to complete the 12-point victory.

A big reason for the success in the final quarter was the balance of four different players scoring at least three points in the period, including a nine-point effort from Joe Wimberly.

More importantly, however, the defense finished off an impressive defensive effort in the second half that saw them give up nine points in both quarters to give the offense room to pull away late.

Wimberly was key in the win with 22 total points, including nine in the fourth and 11 in the second, while Kamari Hollis finished with 14 and Dynarian Long added 11 to finish with three in double figures.

Early in the game, however, it was the Wildcats who started fast on their home floor. They put together 23 points in the opening quarter behind 11 points from Quez Thompson and four more each from three other players.

Pelham did knock down four 3-pointers in the quarter, including three Jackson Germek to reach double figures and stay within striking distance after totaling 14 points.

Still, Benjamin Russell held an early nine-point advantage.

But the Panthers quickly made adjustments on the fly, and a new team came out in the second quarter.

Pelham’s defense trimmed the Benjamin Russell production by 10 points, limiting them to 13 in the quarter, while the Panthers had their first of two 20-plus quarters with 23.

They put together their best quarter of the game thanks to Wimberly’s 11 points in the quarter. He knocked down one 3-pointer and four other field goals, while Long added a three and two field goals for seven points and Hollis added a three and one field goal for five.

All of a sudden, the Panthers went from trailing by nine to in front by one at the half.

That became key going into the third quarter with the game shifting into a defensive battle, but Hollis did just enough in the period with seven points in addition to two made free throws from Thompson Gennari to help match Benjamin Russell’s nine points.

That sent the game into the final quarter with Pelham up 46-45, and the Panthers were able to eventually pull away thanks to their balance offensively and the confidence of the defense.

Pelham will now play Paul Bryant on Thursday at Bill Harrison Arena in Birmingham at 1:30 p.m.