BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – Every time the home team dropped a three-pointer or made a nice offensive play, one common thought flashed through the minds of the faithful, ‘Hey, maybe we can make a run.’ But all it took was a quick glimpse of the scoreboard to re-introduce reality to the scene.
The story the scoreboard told was one of insurmountability and a genuine lack of defense.
On Tuesday night, a young Palmyra boys’ basketball team focusing on its three-point shooting forgot to remember to play defense, and the result was an 81-64 loss at the hands of the Cedar Cliff’s Colts. Playing from behind most of the evening, Palmyra surrendered 20-plus points in three of the game’s four quarters.
Sure the Cougars knocked down 11 trifectas, on a respectable 28 attempts. But Cedar Cliff made 27 two-pointers and went 18-for-27 from the charity stripe.
The contest served as the Mid-Penn Keystone Division opener for both sides. Palmyra is now 1-2 overall in the early going, while Cedar Cliff elevated its record to 3-0.
“Stops. We had to get stops,” said Palmyra head coach Pete Conrad of his club’s defense. “When you can’t get stops it’s not going to work out for you.
“Offensively we had some advantages off the dribble,” Conrad continued. “We talked about playing in attack mode. I thought early we were a little tentative. I thought offensively there were some real positives. But on the same note, it was an unacceptable defensive effort. Against any good player (Cedar Cliff’s Zack Galic) you’ve got to take some things away from him, and we didn’t make him feel uncomfortable.”
Galic, a strong 6-5 inside player, proved to be a physical mismatch for Palmyra all night. He really asserted himself late in the first quarter and into the second, when he notched 12 consecutive points for his team, as the Colts grabbed a 31-23 advantage 1:23 before the break.
Galic finished with 35 points, 15 field goals and five free throws.
“We have high standards,” said Conrad. “We have young guys. But it would sit better with me if we had played good defense and missed some shots.
“Listen, we’re not ‘Woe is me’ around here,” continued Conrad. “We’re young, but we think we have skilled players.”
The treys were falling for the Cougars early. Three-point field goals from Bobby Dorta, Connor Gurt and Austin Yetter helped stake Palmyra to an early 12-8 advantage.
But it was about that point that Galic began to take over, and Palmyra never led again.
“We settled for threes, a little bit early,” said Conrad. “We talked a lot about the ball’s got to get into the paint. It can’t just go around the perimeter. We made a good percentage of them. That’s (11-for-28) better than making half of your twos. But you’ve got to get some shots at the rim.
“On Saturday, we talked about the fact that it’s hard to win when you haven’t won,” added Conrad. “To our guys’ credit, we made plays and won. I thought that was big for us.”
Gurt paced Palmyra with 19 points, while Ian Frazier contributed ten points and Yetter collected ten. The Cougars attempted fewer free throws – 16 – than the Colts made.
“Frazier’s been unbelievable for us,” said Conrad. “All we ask the dude to do is be our rebounder, guard the other team’s best player, handle the ball and score some. That’s a lot, but he can handle it. He’s our leader.
“Yeah, we did graduate six kids in ’12, and in ’13 we graduated nine,” Conrad added. “We have one senior this year and this is the first time he’s ever played. We’ve had some funny class sizes around here. That’s true.”
When Frazier converted an old-fashioned three-point play 1:54 into the second half, the Cougars were within 42-33 of the Colts, and still hanging around. But the Cougars experienced a point drought over the next four minutes of action, while Cedar Cliff was extending its lead to 18 points.
The closest Palmyra would come in the fourth quarter was 61-49 on a ‘three’ from Yetter, and at 72-61 on a ‘three-ball’ from Gurt.
“Where are we?,” said Conrad. “It’s hard to say. We’re getting better. That is the goal. Every practice, every game we want to improve. But at the same time, we just got beat by 17 at home. That’s not good enough.”
Conrad and Palmyra’s run to the District Three Class AAA championship game in 2012-13, as well as the PIAA playoffs, is now a distant memory. The Cougars have no one back from that club, but do sport three juniors, nine sophomores and 12 freshmen among the top players in their program.
“I’m not going to look at it that way,” said Conrad to the suggestion that his team will have to take its lumps to improve. “We’ve definitely got to get guys experience. I’m realistic. But I think it’s also OK to have high standards.
“I used to talk a lot about specific goals,” concluded Conrad. “But I’ve streamlined that to ‘we want to get better every single day’. If we do, we’re going to surprise some people. And if we keep improving, we’re going to stop surprising people. I know it’s a process. But I’m not going to let guys off the hook just because it’s a process.”