By Phil Albert
Special to The Daily
Forest Park boys basketball coach Steve Cole has kept his team busy throughout the Christmas holiday break, and he knows the experience will be beneficial toward the end of the season.
In the past two weeks, the Panthers competed in the Henry County Warhawk basketball tournament and the Eagle's Landing Christian Hooptacular championships, finishing 4-2 overall in the tournament.
"It's a building process for us," Cole said, "and I hope these tournaments prepare us for the end of the season."
The Panthers ended play in the Hooptacular with a second-place finish following a 47-40 setback to Eastside (Covington) in the championship game Monday evening.
Forest Park (6-6) couldn't stop Eastside senior guard Neal Latimore, who pumped in a game-high 17 points in the win. He finished with four 3-point buckets, including three in the second half that came in key moments.
"We had no answer for him," Cole added. "He had a great game."
Latimore was named to the all-tournament team for his effort and teammate Cameron Robinson was named tournament Most Valuable Player. Robinson also hit key shots and finished with 11 points. Anderico Bailey also hit for double figures, finishing with 12 points.
Brandon McCarden was the only Panther in double figures, tying Latimore with 17 points, and he added eight rebounds. Teammates Maurice Simpson and Lamont Jackson were named to the all-tournament team. Jackson scored eight points in the setback.
Forest Park hit 13-of-37 from the floor, but only 5-of-20 in the second half. The Panthers were 11-of-16 from the foul line.
"We just couldn't hit," Cole mentioned. "Lamont couldn't hit the threes. The defense also let us down."
A 7-0 run gave Forest Park an 11-5 lead late in the first quarter, but Eastside answered with an 8-0 run to take a 13-11 lead in the second quarter. Both teams exchanged buckets before Simpson and Jordan Enadeghe hit buckets giving Forest Park a 20-18 lead late in the second quarter. Eastside ended the first half on a 5-0 run, three points coming by Bailey.
McCarden hit four free throws to give the Panthers a 29-27 lead, but Latimore hit two 3-point buckets sandwiched around another McCarden free throw. The Eagles took a 35-32 lead into the final quarter.
Another Latimore three-pointer put the Eagles ahead 43-38 with just over three minutes remaining, and the Panthers could get no closer than four points during the remainder of the game.