AKRON – Cinderella arrived at the ball in the form of the Toledo Whitmer Panthers but the Panther’s Ryne Smith found the hospitality a little wanting as he picked up three personal fouls in the game’s first four minutes.
Surprisingly, Whitmer head coach, Bruce Smith, Ryne’s father, allowed his son to remain in the game. It was a decision that proved to be the correct one as Ryne played all 32 minutes and lead his Panther teammates to a surprising 62-47 victory over previously undefeated Canton Timken.
Smith scored 14 points, while Jeremy Jones led the Panthers with 15.
“To be honest with you, I wasn't going to sit (Ryne) down until he got four [fouls],” coach Smith said. “It was a gamble, a big-time gamble, but at this level there's no room for error and you let it ride.”
The game began with both teams struggling to find the range on their shots. Whitmer enjoyed a slim lead, 10-6, at the end of the first quarter but did so by shooting only 22-percent (2-for-9). Fortunately for the Panthers, the Trojans shot worse: 17-percent (2-for 12).
Partially negating the three foul situation on Smith was the fact that the Panthers out-rebounded the taller Trojans 12-6 in the opening quarter. The inside play of Whitmer’s post players, Antwan Willis and Kevin Koger, has been the difference for the Panthers in their playoff drive and in the early going against Canton Timken they again stepped up their game. In the first quarter alone Willis had five rebounds.
By halftime the Panthers had improved upon their first quarter lead and increased it to 12, 26-14. The Trojans attempted to pick up the tempo but the Panthers gave no indication that they were willing to do so. Whitmer guards, Smith, Bo Norton and DeWayne Frazier experienced little or no difficulty with the defensive pressure being applied by Canton’s backcourt of Johnnie Davis, Lemoine Brown and Christian Alston.
“We never did get the tempo where we needed it to be,” Timken coach Rick Hairston said.
The pace remained in favor of the Panthers in the third quarter. For most of the period Whitmer maintained a 10-13 point advantage but just before the end of the quarter Norton hit a 3-pointer from the elbow to provide Whitmer with a 40-25 lead.
Davis, Timken’s leading scorer, struggled. Averaging 19 points a game, he didn’t record his first points until 2:24 remained in the third.
In the fourth quarter the Trojans put together their best offensive minutes of the game. Outscoring the Panthers, 11-5, in the first four minutes Timken cut the Panther lead to nine, 45-36. Smith stopped the bleeding by converting on two free throws but the momentum had definitely changed. The Trojans eventually cut the lead to seven, 47-40, but down the stretch the Panthers converted their free throw attempts and punched their tickets.
In addition to Jones and Smith, Whitmer got big games from Willis and Koger. Both had double-doubles, with Willis logging 14 points and 10 boards and Koger registering 12 and 13 , respectively.
Canton’s leading scorer was Christian Alston with 15. Davis ended with 10.
Whitmer advances to the state semifinals for only the second time in the school’s history. They will play Newark Friday night at 8:30 p.m. at Value City Arena in Columbus.