BRISTOL - Going into Friday night's Northeastern Athletic Conference showdown, Bristol coach Craig Giesy knew Pymatuning Valley would test the undefeated Panthers.
Bristol passed that test - barely.
Holding an 18-point lead in the second half, the Panthers survived a furious Laker rally and made clutch shots down the stretch to win 82-78.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Bristol’s Chad Oliver (12) makes his shot while surrounded by a sea of Lakers from left, Grant Nowakowski (12), Chase Thurber (44), Evan Pilson (31) and Quintin Ratliff (21) during second-quarter action.
"To come away with that win, it's without a doubt the biggest win of our season," Giesy said. "I was never comfortable with that lead. This was the first time we really had someone battle back like that. We responded great. I couldn't be more happy with how we responded after giving up an 18-point lead."
Halfway through the third quarter, it looked like the Panthers (11-0, 6-0) had the game well in hand.
Bristol led 59-41, thanks in large part to its 3-point shooting. The Panthers caught on fire from beyond the arc, draining nine 3s on 13 attempts from the beginning of the second quarter to the 4:57 mark in the third quarter. Senior Chad Oliver led Bristol with three 3-pointers in the second quarter and finished with a game-high 24 points.
The home team wasn't afraid to shoot from anywhere, including well behind the line.
"Bristol's got some great shooters," PV coach Ryan Fitch said. "We knew that going in. I thought we had some decent high-hands on some shots, but they were hitting them from almost the volleyball line. Brandon Lee hit a couple that were just ungodly. When that goes in like that, we're going to be in trouble."
At that point, however, the Lakers (7-2, 3-1) applied some defensive pressure and flipped the game in their favor.
Bristol started turning the ball over, giving the ball away 14 times over the final 12 minutes. On multiple occasions, a Panther tried to throw across the court in a desperate attempt to find a teammate but instead either threw the ball out of bounds or to an opposing player.
The shots from beyond the arc dried up, as did the team's lead. As Bristol attempted two 3s, PV went on a 21-4 run to pull within one point by the 6:00 mark in the fourth quarter.
"(The turnovers) hurt our chances to put up any shots - not just 3-pointers," Oliver said. "But we maintained our composure down the stretch there and got the win."
To go along with the turnovers, Giesy said the team stopped crashing the offensive glass, which allowed PV to grab rebounds and turn them into easy baskets at the other end.
"What hurt us the most was we weren't rebounding," Giesy said. "When we're missing 3s, we need get offensive boards, and we quit rebounding."
The Panthers woke up with the game so close, stretching their lead out to seven points at one point, only to see the Lakers claw back and take a two-point lead with 1:11 remaining in the game.
The lead didn't last long, with Johnny Simcox draining a 3-pointer 11 seconds later to retake the lead, and then the home team made three from the charity stripe to seal the victory.
Fitch said he liked the way his team came back, but he pointed to his team's 50 percent free-throw shooting percentage, which kept his team from pulling away late in the game.
"Our kids have some good character," Fitch said. "We battled the best we could and cut it down the stretch - just couldn't get it to a point where we could a lead and hold onto it.
"We went 8 of 20 from the free throw line. That's not going to win too many games. I think the free-throw line was the difference tonight."
As for Bristol, this win meant a little more than others, as the senior class hadn't beaten the Lakers for five years.
"I haven't beaten PV since seventh grade," Oliver said. "It felt really great (to get a win over PV)."