Sterling High’s 6-foot-5 Austin Maxwell dominated the paint against Nickerson High.
Maxwell sparked the Black Bears to a hard-fought 61-55 Central Kansas League basketball victory Tuesday over the Panthers with 28 points and double digit rebounds.
The Panthers never found a defensive answer for Maxwell, who scored nine fourth-quarter points to help hold off the Panthers’ desperation rally. Maxwell made 11 of 12 field goals, including several mid-range jumpers, off excellent passing. Point guard Jake Jaderston led Sterling’s solid passing.
“I give all the credit to my teammates because they passed me the ball,” Maxwell said.
Nickerson coach Ryan Duft said Maxwell is a tough defensive matchup because his size creates space to get his shot off inside.
“Maxwell is so strong inside and he stepped out a couple times and hit the outside shot,” Duft said. “Part of the problem was their guards got penetration and we ended up trying to help out defensively. We’ve got to do a better job staying in front of their guards. We like to protect the paint defensively. They’ve got a great point guard in Jake Jaderston and a nice post player in Maxwell.”
Trey Bagby’s buzzer-beater to end the third quarter for a 42-39 lead gave Sterling momentum, which was never lost. Maxwell scored six straight points for a 50-44 lead that the Black Bears never lost.
“We’re used to seeing teams collapse their defense and double team Maxwell,” said Sterling coach Derek Schneider. “It was nice to see Austin score some points off posting up inside. We’re used to seeing Austin score a lot of his points off offensive rebounds.”
Kirk Engelland gave Sterling a spark with 14 points. The Black Bears converted 21 of 36 free throws, a percentage that Schneider would like to improve.
Nickerson’s Ethan Belden made a pair of 3-pointers, but the Panthers missed two makeable inside shots and a one-and-one free throw that could’ve cut the lead to four points in the final two minutes.
Last year’s Class 2A state champion Sterling (1-4, 0-1 CKL) had struggled defensively until Tuesday when the Black Bears applied effective ball pressure that helped force 19 Nickerson turnovers.
“Our ball pressure was much better tonight,” Schneider said. “Defensively, we defended their guards and didn’t let them run their offense. Our ball pressure and helpside defense was vastly improved tonight.”
Duft said he was pleased with the effort and intensity his team played with. The sophomore-laden Panthers were led by Belden with 14 points and senior Ryan O’Toole with 11 points, including nine in the first period. Junior Joey Stockinger added 10 points.
Supersub Bryon Young gave the Panthers a huge lift with back-to-back steals that led to two scores and a 29-27 halftime lead.
“Bryon was a good example of a player who gave us a nice lift. We’ve got great young men who play hard. We’ve got some young players who are coming along and finding their niche,” Duft said. “We worked hard and gave ourselves a chance tonight.”
Duft said the Panthers played well enough to win, but came up a couple of plays shy. The Panthers made 17 of 40 field goals and 18 of 25 free throws.
“We had a chance to get really close, but we didn’t finish a play or two at the end,” Duft said. “We showed a great effort. We play a little better defense and finish some plays and we are right there. We’ve got to limit our turnovers because we don’t have a margin of error.”
Nickerson (1-3, 0-1 CKL) plays Hesston at home Friday in a non-league game between Central Kansas League teams. Sterling (1-4) travels to Smoky Valley Friday.