ROSSVILLE — Western senior Ronnie Smith, who stands 6-foot-7, proved to be an unstoppable force Saturday night, earning a double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds as the Panthers outlasted Rossville, 63-60, in overtime.
“We had the size advantage and we wanted to take advantage of that,” said Western head coach Bart Miller. “He’s really stepped it up the past couple of weeks as the season’s gone on.”
Western (3-2) grabbed the lead early in the extra session and never looked back, with Smith and Austin Weaver scoring to give the Panthers a 55-51 lead. Rossville (2-3) cut the lead to two points twice following a James Baker basket and two Brandon Tonsoni free throws. But the Panthers iced it at the free-throw line, hitting 6 of 8 attempts in the final 55 seconds of the game.
Western led the entire second half until Tonsoni hit his sixth 3-pointer of the game with 54 seconds left in regulation to give Rossville a 51-49 lead. But Western came back down and found Smith on the block, who hit a short baseline jumper to tie the game at 51-51 with 32 seconds left.
“It’s a 50-50 shot — do you call a timeout and try to set something up or do you just play?” Miller said. “And we just played on. We’ve got smart guys. Evan Warden and Des Balentine make great decisions. They know when to take it to the bucket or pull up and hit an open teammate.”
Rossville’s Ethan Brenneman missed a driving lay-up with seven seconds left, and Smith missed two shots from close range right before the buzzer to send it to overtime.
Rossville was down 28-23 early in the third quarter and tied the game at 35 on a Tonsoni 3-pointer late in the third. They tied it one other time before taking the lead at 51-49.
“We did some nice things down the stretch to get shots,” said Rossville head coach Dave Mosson. “The idea is to get good shots. In the second half, they took Brandon out of our offense and did a good job pressuring Austin (Miller). And other kids stepped up. We don’t like to lose but they’re a pretty good team. The effort was there.”
Western had 12 offensive rebounds, nine in the first half, as Smith scored a majority of his first half points on putbacks.
Rossville arguably lost the game in the second quarter, as the Hornets were 2 of 14 from the field. Tonsoni and Austin Miller were a combined 0 of 9 in the period.
Rossville led 17-10 early in the second period before Western went on a 14-4 run to grab a 24-21 lead at the halftime break. Rossville didn’t score in the final 4:01 of the half.
“We got off to a good start, had a nice lead and just laid an egg in the second quarter,” Mosson said. “They got more aggressive defensively and put a little more pressure on Brandon and Austin.”
Tonsoni led Rossville with 20 points on 6 of 19 shooting. Brenneman and Austin Miller were also in double figures with 13 and 11 points, respectively, and Baker scored nine.
Overall, Smith was 10 of 17 from the field. He scored 11 of his 21 in the first half.
“We watched film from two games and went and watched Western play (Friday) night, and they really didn’t use (Smith) that much offensively,” said Rossville head coach Dave Mosson. “But they used him quite a bit against us. The second half we did a little better job on him. He got loose in the first half.”
Balentine wasn’t too far behind Smith with 18 points, eight coming in the fourth quarter to offset the 3-point barrage of Tonsoni, who hit three triples in the fourth quarter. Warden scored nine points and added five rebounds and four assists, and Austin Townsend grabbed 10 rebounds.
Rossville senior James Baker directs the offense during Saturday night’s game against Western.