BRISTOLVILLE - Last year, Brandon Lee watched Chad Oliver carry the Bristol Panthers during the fourth quarter of big games time and time again, taking notes on how it's done.
In the Panthers' 76-63 win over Mineral Ridge on Saturday night at Bristol High School, the senior captain displayed the same clutch play of the departed Oliver, scoring 10 of his game-high 22 points in the final 3 minutes as the Panthers pulled away late.
Lee's late-game surge sparked a 15-4 run during the final 3:26 in which Bristol (9-1) pulled away. Before that point, Bristol's advantage had dwindled from seven at the beginning of the fourth to two following Corey Phillips' two points from the charity stripe at the 4:52 mark that pulled the Rams (5-3) to within two points, 61-59.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Bristol’s Gary Hopson drives and gets off his shot as Mineral Ridge’s Jonathan Baker (10) and Nick Ferguson (20) watch.
"I knew I had to hit some big shots for us to win the game," Lee said. "It was getting pretty close there - (I) tried to take over a little bit."
Until the final 3 minutes, Lee didn't put up many shots and didn't play too much of a role on offense. Not that his coach, Craig Giesy, minded too much, citing his effort on the defensive end.
"If you asked me how he shot, I couldn't tell you how many points he had because his defensive effort was there, his rebounding - he did the little things tonight," Giesy said. "That's what we need from Brandon. It's the same thing we asked from Oliver last year - to do the little things, and the scoring will come."
Other Bristol players picked up the offensive slack throughout the game, including fellow guard Zeth Tomasiak. The senior drained five 3-pointers for all 15 of his points, including one with 1:46 remaining in the game to finish a stretch of 11-straight points for the Panthers.
"We have not shot the ball well up to this point," said Giesy, whose Panthers shot 42 percent from the field. "We're looking for some guys to knock down some shots, and Zeth was the guy who stepped up tonight. We moved him over to the one (point guard), and he got to handle the ball more. I think it helped his confidence, helped him get a little more feel of the game than he's had this year so far.
"If we can get that from Zeth Tomasiak every night, we'll be pretty confident going into most games."
Although the Panthers shot well enough against the Rams, Mineral Ridge's big center, Ryan Nutter, proved to be a big problem for Bristol. On back-to-back possessions halfway through the third quarter, he made his presence felt by blocking two shots in the lane, and the 6-foot-7 senior swatted five shots total despite only playing the final two quarters.
"We were trying to go into his body more so he'd foul us, but it didn't work too well," Lee said of Bristol's plan against Nutter. "I just started pulling up, throwing up jumpers or floaters. That's basically what we were trying to do - get around him or go into his body so he can't block our shots."
Jonathan Baker and Corey Phillips scored 18 and 17 points, respectively, to lead the Rams, who had multiple starters sit out the beginning of the game. Coach Chris Kohl was unavailable for comment after the game.
The win capped off a week in which the Panthers lost their first regular season game since the 2011-2012 season in a 40-37 loss to Columbiana on Monday. Lee said the loss has motivated the team in the last two games on Friday and Saturday.
"That was a rough loss, driving all the way down to Columbiana," Lee said. "We had no energy that game, but we've came back good these last two games. We knew we just laid an egg that game, and we had to come out and win these last two games."