NAUGATUCK — This might not be the Tug Valley team of old — the Panther squad which powered its way to the Class AA state championship in 2012 and then rolled to the Single-A title last year.
But the Man High School basketball team found out something on Wednesday night in the makeup game at Tug Valley.
They discovered that the Panthers are still a pretty darn good basketball team as Tug Valley routed Man 78-33 at the Tug Valley High School gym in Naugatuck.
Man dropped to 5-7 on the season with the loss. Tug Valley, a Class A sectional rival of the Hillbillies, improved to 7-4.
Tug Valley, which won all three meetings last season with Man en route to the state championship but lost four starters due to graduation going into this year, raced out to a 19-7 lead after one quarter and never looked back.
The unranked Panthers outscored the Billies 19-15 in the second quarter to take a commanding 38-22 lead at the half.
Tug Valley then poured it on in the third quarter, pressuring Man defensively and forcing numerous turnovers as the Panthers outscored Man 20-2 during the frame to take a 58-24 advantage after three periods of play.
The Panthers then coasted to victory in the fourth quarter, leading the Billies by as many as 46 points at 74-28.
Tug Valley outscored Man 20-9 in the fourth quarter and 40-11 in the decisive second half.
It was as disappointing loss for the Billies, which took Class A No. 1-ranked and undefeated Huntington St. Joe to the brink last week at home before falling 62-60.
On the flip side, it was a statement game for Tug Valley, which is battling with Greater Beckley Christian for sectional supremacy this season.
The Billies shot an arctic-cold 19 percent from the floor and made just nine field goals in 48 attempts.
The Panthers were 28-for-58 shooting for 48 percent.
Man turned the ball over 28 times to 16 for TVHS and was outrebounded 31-15.
Thomas Baisden led Tug Valley with 18 points, while sophomore Calvin Blankenship had 17. Kyle Newsome netted 12 points off the bench. Hayden Sturgell had 10 for the Panthers. Brett Ooten added six, Dwayne Marcum four, Aaron Copley three and Austin Baisden, Tyler Workman, Jared Farley and Justin Farley all had two each.
Man’s leading scorer, sophomore John Thomas Keffer, was held to eight points in the game, down from his seasonal average of 21 points per contest. Jake Adkins had seven for Man, while Cameron Simpson had six off the bench. Daniel Buchanon and Erik Files tallied four each. Kenny Joe Adkins also had four points.
Both teams have suffered long layoffs due game cancellations over the last two weeks because of the wintry weather.
Man is scheduled to get back into action on Friday night at home with a boys/girls doubleheader against Phelps (Ky.) beginning at 6 p.m. The Billies then host River View next Tuesday.
Tug Valley, winners of three out of its last four games, went to 3A Lincoln County on Thursday night and are set to play at Roane County on Saturday night before hosting Cross Lanes Christian on Feb. 7.
The big showdown game for the Panthers is Feb. 14 at Naugatuck against Greater Beckley Christian in a game that could determine the No. 1 seed in the sectional.
It’s been an up and down this season for Man, which still has shown much improvement from last year.
“At times we seem to have a problem early in the game against known teams like we did earlier in the season against Riverside,” Arms said. “Our kids might have just looked at them and felt that we might not be able to compete against those guys. Other games we have played well and had some confidence. That’s the thing that we need to keep working at. Whatever the competition is we have to play our best game, keep working hard and keep trying to get better.”
Arms said it’s hard for his team to get into any kind of flow with all of the game cancellations.
“These situations weather-wise it’s almost like having a second preseason,” he said. “When you go through long stretches without games it’s like having a preseason a second time. Normally, you play on Tuesday, practice on Wednesday and Thursday and play on Friday and you can get into a good flow. But we haven’t had that this year. Hopefully our kids can adjust to it.”
Arms said Tug Valley has a good team.
“They lost three great players to graduation but Tug Valley is Tug Valley and they have a great program,” he said. “They always play hard and they are always tough, no matter what the situation is.”
Tug Valley and Man are scheduled to play each other again on Feb. 11 at Man. The two teams are set to battle with Greater Beckley Christian, Sherman, Van and Montcalm in a more balanced sectional tourney during the post-season. The top two teams in the sectional will advance to the regional tourney.
“With our young kids we just need to learn to be competitive,” Arms said.
Tug Valley coach Garland “Rabbit” Thompson said it’s been a roller-coaster ride this season for his team.
“We lost four good starters and the weather hasn’t helped any this week and this winter,” Thompson said. “We’ve cancelled games and we’ve cancelled practices. It’s been a mess, not only for me but for Coach Arms over at Logan County and for everybody else. It has been a very difficult basketball season. Hopefully we can get some momentum here because it’s getting very late and the post-season is near.”
Thompson said it’s been hard to get his team into any kind of rhythm due to the bad weather which has wiped out 10 days of school this month and has caused the cancellations of many games and practices.
“We should be at 50-some practices right now but we’re at 34,” Thompson said. “We’ve had about 10 practices cancelled and we’ve lost about six games. We were very surprised this game got played tonight. The kids need to play and they need to be in the gym but that has just not happened this year. We’ve struggled some this year but everything is in front of us with the sectional tourney left to be played. I still have hopes that we can make it back to Charleston. It begins tonight.”
— Banner Correspondent Jerry Fekete contributed to this report.