By Brian Paglia
Swarmed by three Forest Park defenders in the far corner, Justin Gant was trapped. Down by nine with just three minutes left in the game, the Panthers tried to assert themselves with a quick defensive stand. This was Forest Park's last-ditch effort.
Swarmed by time, Gant leapt above his defenders and slung a pass to D.J. Beard at midcourt. Swiftly, Beard found Troy Swanson for a transition layup, and just like that, Ola averted a crisis.
Ola's 70-57 victory Tuesday night at Forest Park required resourcefulness and persistence. Indeed, Mustangs coach Curt Miller implored his team throughout the fourth quarter to maintain its defensive intensity and to find a way around Forest Park's full-court pressure. In the end, Ola (4-0, 3-0 in Region 4-AAAA) found a way.
"It was not pretty. It was not pretty at all. But we'll take it," Miller said.
Building a 19-9 lead after the first quarter appeared easy for Ola. Gant scored eight of his 10 points in the quarter and Forest Park (1-6, 1-1) was without its aim, an ominous sign for a team reliant on its perimeter shooting.
Eventually, the Panthers solved Ola's 2-3 defensive zone with smoother execution on offense -- crisp passes into the lanes, sharp decisions made under the basket and better finishes. Forcing four turnovers helped.
Miller knew the adjustment he needed to make during halftime. Ola came out in the third quarter in a 3-2 defensive zone and Forest Park went cold. By the end of the quarter, Ola had a 50-38 lead and appeared to have the Panthers thoroughly confounded.
"Went to the 3-2 and it slowed them down a lot," Miller said.
"I think the key was defense," said Ola guard Tim Mason, who led all scorers with 22 points. "When we went into the (3-2) zone is when we started getting after them. It starts on defense."
The contributions on offense came from everywhere. Mason and Troy Swanson (16 points) led four players who scored in double figures for the Mustangs, including Gant and Beard (11 points). Jordan Enadeghe led Forest Park with 21. Malikki Priester added 15.
When the buzzer sounded, it capped a season-opening stretch unlike any other in Ola history. History had Ola pegged as slow starters. Never has Ola found itself undefeated.
"Not bad considering a lot of people didn't know we had basketball at Ola," Miller said. "I'm excited. They're excited. I told them to enjoy it."
Forest Park girls 68, Ola 24
Jessica Anderson hit six 3-pointers for part of her game-high 23 points and the Lady Panthers overwhelmed the Lady Mustangs on defense to stay perfect on the season.
Ashley Cole added 13 points for Forest Park (4-0, 2-0 in Region 4-AAAA).
Jeania Julmiste led Ola (0-5, 0-3) with 12 points and six rebounds.