PALMYRA – The Palmyra boys’ basketball team performed well on opening night. But as their season opener drew on and on, the Cougars’ 18-inch rim got smaller and smaller.
It shrank to a point where the basketball Palmyra was using could no longer fit through it.
On Friday night, in the opening round of the annual Lebanon Tip-Off Tournament, the Cougars turned ice cold in crunch and fell to a talented Erie Strong Vincent outfit 59-54. Palmyra went without a point for a four-minute stretch late in the game, and the Colonels turned a 51-49 deficit into a 58-51 advantage.
The contest was played on Palmyra’s home floor, due to on-going renovations to Lebanon High School’s gymnasium.
In light of the outcome, the Cougars will meet Elco, which fell to the Cedars 62-54, in Saturday’s consolation game of the tourney, at 6 p.m. at the Lebanon Valley College Gymnasium in Annville.
“No disrespect to Erie Strong Vincent, give them the credit,” said Palmyra head coach Pete Conrad. “But we just had a lot of shots I thought we could’ve shot better, gone a little harder to the hole or made better decisions on. I don’t have our shooting stats, but they weren’t good. We got the shots we wanted, we were just unable to convert.
“We talked about this being our first game,” added Conrad. “But you’ve got to earn this. We’ve got to be accountable for things. We talked about embracing the challenge. Tonight was a good challenge. We endeavor to learn things from this. I don’t think there’ll be finger-pointing.”
On the heels of a hard-fought, back-and-forth affair, Palmyra senior point Shaun Robinson gave his squad a 51-49 edge with 4:12 to go on a tough move to the bucket. But the Cougar offense turned tentative and passive after that, while the Colonels were scoring the game’s next nine points.
Erie Strong Vincent took the lead for good on a putback with under three minutes to play, and then made hay at the charity stripe. Palmyra did come up with a three-point basket from the aptly named Trey Baker, but it came with 12 seconds remaining.
“There might have been a little bit of that,” said Conrad to the suggestion that Cougars other than Logan Stovall and Adam Newhard became unwilling to pull the trigger with the game on the line. “Trey Baker had a really good fall and he played well tonight. For some of the guys it has to do with experience. Everyone’s got to play in attack mode. If you don’t, you’re a liability.
“We had a lot of lapses,” Conrad continued. “Against a team that’s as pressure-oriented as they are, if you make an aggressive, strong decision with the ball, you’re going to shoot easy shots.”
The contest was close during most of the second half. Palmyra took a 48-47 lead on two charity tosses from Newhard with 5:38 left, after Stovall had given the Cougars a 46-45 lead with foul shots a minute earlier.
After the Cougars had enjoyed a 26-25 edge at the break, Erie Strong Vincent opened the second half with an 11-5 spurt to assume a 36-31 advantage. But after Newhard broke a three-minute-plus scoreless stretch with a three-pointer, Palmyra regained a 39-38 margin on a Chris Lynn trey.
“Offensive rebounds really hurt us,” said Conrad. “I had them (the Colonels) with ten second-chance points, and us with two. For us, that’s unacceptable.
“We had either eight or nine turnovers against a team that really gets after you,” continued Conrad, “so that’s a positive. We’re going to be in close games, so this was a good preparation for league play.”
Newhard paced Palmyra with 17 points, while Stovall, saddled with foul difficulties most of the evening, finished with 11 points. Baker complemented the Cougars’ ‘big two’ with 11 points of his own.
“They’re an athletic team,” said Conrad of the Colonels. “They play hard. I think they beat us to loose balls. They played a lot of things (defenses). We knew they were going to be athletic. Sometimes it’s hard to re-create game levels in practice.”
The Cougars tallied ten unanswered points to grab an early 10-4 lead, and ended the opening stanza with a 14-8 cushion thanks to two foul shots from Robinson. Palmyra enjoyed a pair of seven point leads – 17-10 and 20-13 – on three-point field goals by Newhard and Chris Lynn.
But the Cougars went without a point for a 3:09 span and Erie Strong Vincent closed the half on a 12-6 run.
“I think we want to start off by being competitive in the Keystone Division (of the Mid-Penn Conference), and go from there,” said Conrad. “I think we can score better than we did last year. But I don’t know if we can defend and rebound as well. So I don’t know what that means to the entire package.”