MINERAL RIDGE – In his first year as coach for the Rams, Chris Kohl had yet to see the Bristol Panthers play before Wednesday night, and following the game, he left the court impressed.
Bristol used an aggressive defense, including a full-court man press at all times, to pummel Mineral Ridge, 91-61, extending its unbeaten run to eight games. Kohl said he saw similarities to fellow Inter Tri-County League team McDonald.
“That’s the way you play basketball right there,” Kohl said of Bristol’s style. “They do a nice job. They don’t do nothing fancy, but boy, whatever they do, they do it well.”
Bristol (8-0) gave the Rams (5-4) all sorts of problems, starting from whenever the Rams touched the ball.
The Panthers attacked the ball relentlessly, scraping and swiping at any flash of the ball. They forced 25 turnovers and recorded 10 steals, which led to quick baskets at the other end.
These turnovers allowed the Panthers to bust the game wide open, especially in the second half. Taking an 11-point lead going into halftime, Bristol forced eight turnovers in the third quarter and dumped 27 points on the Rams.
“I think (the style) is a big reason for our success this year,” Chad Oliver said. “We have a lot of athletic guys who like to run around and create some chaos, and it leads to some easy baskets for us.”
The aggressive defense is somewhat of a double-edged sword, however.
The Panthers found themselves in foul trouble early and often. In the first half, the Rams were in the bonus less than one minute into the second quarter and before the third quarter ended.
Bristol had two players finish with four fouls and three players finish with three fouls.
Bristol coach Craig Giesy said that there’s not much the team can do about the foul trouble, but the team’s depth means he can plug another player in and not miss a beat.
“We just try to teach not to reach and not to swat, so we limit the foul trouble,” Giesy said. “We know that we’re going to get into a little bit foul trouble the way we play, but being deep helps as well.”
Nobody fit the Panthers’ style better than Oliver, who scored a game-high 33 points.
The senior played with a scrappy mentality, forcing a number of turnovers and crashing the boards. He recorded nine rebounds, five of which came on the offensive glass, and recorded two steals.
He also made important plays when the team needed it. One such play came early in the third quarter, following Zac Hagy dunk that put the Rams within nine points. With the home crowd excited from the dunk, Oliver took the inbounds pass and traveled the length of the court for a quick layup before anybody could react.
“He is our silent leader,” Giesy said. “He’s the guy who goes out there and plays his butt off, and everyone feeds off with him. He leads us in scoring, he leads us in rebounding, he leads us in assists… He’s one of those guys that he’s a (stat) stuffer by the way he plays.”
As for the Rams, Kohl said that his young team needs some time to gel and buy into the system he wants to run.
“We’re still learning what is expected of them,” he said. “I’m hoping that as we progress through the year that we get smarter as basketball players and we get better as a team. I don’t think that we’ve really understood what we’re trying to do as a basketball team.”
Bristol returns to Northeastern Athletic Conference play against Ledgemont on Friday, while Mineral Ridge finishes its tour of the NAC against Southington on Saturday.