Panther hoopsters off to 5-0 start in conference contests

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Fairbanks sophomore Braylon Green goes up for a shot against Mechanicsburg. Green is averaging 10 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game for the Panthers, who are undefeated in Ohio Heritage Conference games.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)

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Although the high school boys basketball season is just a few weeks old, there is one local team that has already begun to make a statement.
The Fairbanks Panthers have jumped out to a solid start, winning five of their first six games.
The only blemish on FHS’ record to date is a season-opening 57-46 loss to neighboring Jonathan Alder, which is also 5-1.
Since that setback, Fairbanks has won five consecutive games, all against Ohio Heritage Conference North Division rivals West Jefferson, Triad, West Liberty-Salem, Mechanicsburg and Northeastern.
With that 5-0 divisional mark, the Panthers lead West Jefferson by one game and West Liberty-Salem by two.
FHS coach Justin George said he felt going into the season that his squad could be where it currently stands in the waning days of December.
“We’re a senior-heavy team, so I had hoped that we’d be up there,” he said. “We’ve been up toward the top of the division since we joined the conference.”
The Panthers placed third in the division with a 9-3 record a year ago.
George said there are a couple of key factors to the team’s success.
The first that he points to is the squad’s balanced scoring.
Senior Cross Hackathorne is averaging 13.3 points per game, after being one of the team’s top point-getters the past couple of years.
What George likes, however, is the fact the Panthers don’t have to rely entirely on the fourth-year man for offensive production.
Sophomore Braylon Green is scoring at a 10.2 per-game clip, while seniors Jacob Nicol, Tyler Beem and Mason Smith are all averaging eight.
“That’s pretty good balanced scoring,” said George.
Green’s production has been a nice addition to the varsity roster, after he played on the junior varsity squad as a freshman.
He currently leads the OHC in rebounding with 9.7 per game.
The Panthers’ defense has also been a plus. FHS has yielded an average of only 48.5 points per game during OHC contests. Fairbanks is outscoring conference foes by nearly 10 points per game.
“That (the defense) just goes back to the beginning when we first got started,” said George, who is in his fourth season at the FHS helm. “We didn’t go into the preseason having to teach any new (man-to-man) concepts. It’s just been a matter of refining what we’ve been teaching the past few years.”
While George is pleased with his team’s start, he realizes there are still a couple of areas that need improvement.
“There have been some games where we’ve lost our intensity at times, mainly during the second quarter and toward the end,” he said. “We have to keep working on that in order to maintain a consistent level of intensity.
“We’ve also had a lot of unforced turnovers because we sometimes have mental breakdowns during certain portions of the game, especially when we have the lead,” said George. “We have to clean that up a bit.”
Friday evening’s trip to Cedarville will begin a stretch of games during which the Panthers will play OHC cross-over games.
Following Friday’s contest, the next three games will be at home against Springfield Catholic Central (Jan. 4), at Madison Plains (Jan. 8) and home vs. Greenon (Jan. 11).
“We’re going to be seeing some teams we don’t know a lot about,” said George. “That’s why we need to build and keep consistent intensity throughout the entire game.”



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