KNOX - It sort of makes sense on Keystone's Senior Night that the Panthers' seniors would shine.
Keystone's seniors accounted for 54 of the Panthers' 61 points in Keystone's 61-42 win over visiting North Clarion in the regular season finale for both teams.
According to Keystone head coach Greg Heath, it was his team's defense that was the difference maker in his team's win.
"We came out with great intensity on defense and that's what it was all about," Heath said. "The intensity was there in the first half. (To be good defensively) you have to really want to play defense and we played it well tonight."
The Panthers turned over the Wolves 19 times in the game with Keystone making 13 steals.
Keystone's Troy Johnson piled up 21 points, eight rebounds, five steals and three assists.
Also scoring in double-digits for the Panthers were Marc Rearick with 12 points and Isaak Jones with 10 points.
Alex Rapp posted seven points, five rebounds, four steals and two assists for Keystone while Andrew Lauer totaled four points, seven rebounds and six assists.
The win also clinches the top seed for Keystone in the upcoming District 9 Class 2A playoff field. However, Heath isn't worried about where his team is seeded when it comes to the postseason.
"It's nice (to be the No. 1 seed) but in the long run, I don't know how important it is," Heath said. "You are going to have to play good teams and you are going to have to beat good teams to advance. There are no slouches. You have to bring your best every night."
Midway through the first period, Keystone strung together a 9-0 run to take a 13-5 lead with 3:06 remaining in the frame.
Rearick connected on a 3-pointer in the span while Lauer connected on a layup off an assists from Jones. Jones and Johnson each connected on a pair of free throws.
The Wolves responded with a five point outburst with Drew Gatesman connecting on a layup while Matson Higgins drained a 3-pointer.
The Wolves' skein sliced the Keystone lead to 13-10.
However, the Wolves surge would be short-lived as Johnson scored the next five points for the Panthers connecting on a 3-pointer while posting a 2-for-2 effort from the charity stripe.
Johnson's 3-pointer gave the Panthers an 18-10 lead with 31 seconds remaining in the quarter. Johnson had 11 of Keystone's 18 points in the frame draining a 3-pointer, connecting on two layups and going 4-for-4 from the charity stripe.
The Panthers had an opportunity to add to their lead in the waning seconds of the period but Keystone's shot attempt was offline and North Clarion's Collin Schmader ripped down the rebound. Schmader took two dribbles and then launched a three-quarter length of the court shot that went in as time expired in the quarter. Schmader's miraculous 3-pointer trimmed the Keystone lead to 18-13.
Neither team could get its offense moving in the early going of the second quarter. Both the Wolves and the Panthers came up empty on three-straight possessions.
Higgins broke the scoring drought for the Wolves when he rattled home a layup at the 5:03 mark of the quarter. Higgins' basket cut the Panther advantage to 18-15.
The Wolves, however, would get no closer as Keystone went on a 13-0 run the remainder of the half to take a 31-15 lead into the break.
Jones opened Panthers' scoring splurge with a layup. On the ensuing North Clarion possession, Johnson made a steal and fired an outlet pass to Rearick who connected on a layup.
Johnson made another steal on the Wolves' inbound pass and rattled home a layup. Johnson was fouled on the play but missed the free throw.
After a North Clarion miss, Rearick canned a 3-pointer on the following Keystone possession extending the Keystone lead to 27-15 with 2:21 remaining in the half.
Lauer triggered the next two Keystone baskets as he whistled passes to Jones and Johnson for layups pushing the Keystone lead to 31-15 with 48 seconds left in the half. The Panthers would hold on to the 16-point lead the remainder of the period.
"That (quarter) created some separation for us," Heath said. "It allowed us to get more comfortable in the offensive end."
North Clarion turned the ball over 11 times in the frame and went 1-of-8 from the field.
"We couldn't put the ball in the basket (in that quarter)," North Clarion head coach Andy Bish said. "We've had that happen to us a few times this year where we have that one quarter were no matter what we do on offense; the ball is just not going in the hoop."
North Clarion's offense came out of its stupor in the third period as the Wolves put up 12 points in the frame with Jacob Bauer draining a pair of 3-pointers on the way to eight points in the frame. Bauer was the Wolves leading scorer with 16 points.
North Clarion was unable to make any headway, however, as Keystone scored 16 points in the period to extend its lead to 47-27 at the end of the period.
Rapp drained a 3-pointer and had five points in the period for the Panthers while Johnson contributed four points.
North Clarion outscored the Panthers 15-14 in the final period to set the 61-42 final.
Keystone will be back in action Saturday (Feb. 15) as the Panthers will take on Clarion-Limestone in the KSAC championship game at Clarion University's Tippin Gymnasium with tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m.
North Clarion's next action will be in the District 9 Class A playoffs against an opponent to be determined.
"This was perfect game for us heading into the playoffs," Bish said. "Because we are going to see one of those teams from (either the Northern Tier League or the Allegheny Mountain League) and this is the style they are going to play. They are going to be up in your face on defense like Keystone was tonight."
Bish continued, "We have to do a better job in getting in sets, running through them and being productive out of them. We just need confidence and we need guys to believe in themselves. We have some guys now who are lacking confidence on their shots and you can see that. Having a week solid of practice without having any games to worry about should really help us."