Out to a fast start, Rockets blast PBL with 21-0 first quarter run

Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas drives to the basket on a fastbreak during the first quarter. Thomas finished with 11 points in Unity's 36-point advantage over Paxton-Buckley-Loda in their Illini Prairie Conference game on Friday. Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

by Daniel L. Chamness
Special to the Sentinel


Tolono - Tolono Unity's offense surged ahead and never looked back in their conference opener against the visiting Paxton Buckley Loda Panthers.

And, there was absolutely no reason to look back in the 58-22 victory. The Rocket offense did their best imitation of a Ferrari from the starting line, had a 10-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.

While the Rocket offense was busy rambling out to a insurmountable lead, the Rocket defense was holding the Panthers at bay and feeding the offense as they capitalized on bad pass turnovers and their defensive rebounding.

Andrew Thomas scored the first Unity points draining a 10-foot jumper at 7:34. The 6-foot-3, 165-pound junior guard was also involved in the next bucket as well when he grabbed a defensive board to start the next offensive drive. The drive ended when senior Will Cowan drained a three pointer, hitting from the left wing, at the 6:47 mark. Henry Thomas drove to the bucket, but realized the defense was collapsing on him, as three Panthers closed in on him before hitting Cowan with a pass as he hit a wide open shot.

That was followed by a Henry Thomas layup, and a Cowan layup as he stole the ball and dashed down the court. He would then hit another three pointer, this one from the left corner at 4:48. With 3:12 drained off the clock, the Rockets boasted a 12-0 lead.

Before the quarter ended, both Henry Thomas and Cowan had struck from beyond the arc again, as Thomas nailed one from the right wing, while Cowan stuck from the left corner. The Thomas brothers and Cowan had the Rockets leading 21-0 after the first eight minutes at the Rocket Center.

In the opening minute of the second stanza, Andrew Thomas scored three more points hitting a free throw and then a layup at the 7:00 mark.

"We did a number of things well tonight, but our defense really stood out," said Matt Reed, Unity's head coach. "We pressured well. We made shots early and the passes were very good. They shared the ball incredibly well. We tried to stay focused the entire game, no matter how much we were leading by."

Kayden Snelling put the Panthers on the board with 6:23 to play in the first half. He would score the first six Panther points as he would score again at 2:56 and again at 1:19. While the Panthers had it the board in the second quarter, the Unity Rockets had expanded their lead to 29 points, 35-6, by halftime.

Unity pressed hard early in the first quarter, then backed off for the remaining 24 minutes.

The clock ran steady in the fourth quarter. Cowan, who was in double figures before the sun set on the first quarter, finished with a team-high 16 points. He hit a total of four treys and a pair of two-pointers. He was joined in double figures by Andrew Thomas, who finished with 11 points. He hit three regulation shots and 5-of-6 from the free throw line.

In all, a dozen Rocket players lit up the scoreboard on Friday. Nate Bleecher finished with six points, while Dalton O'Neill and Henry Thomas each had five points. Unity's scoring effort was rounded out by Austin Langendorf and Dane Eisenmenger, who each had three points. Colten Langendorf, Eric Meibach, Taylor Warfel and Jay Saunders each had two points, while Isaac Ruggieri added one.

Unity moves to 10-7 overall and 1-0 in the Illini Prairie Conference.

"We started off hitting our shots from the beginning of the game," said Henry Thomas. "Hitting like that felt pretty good. Not to mention, it gave us so much confidence for the rest of the game."

Snelling led Panthers with 10 points.

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