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Karns City Smothers Keystone, Uses Second-Half Surge to Move to 3-0

KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — The shots weren’t falling.

The offense was sputtering.

The Karns City boys basketball team was out of sync.

Keystone wasn’t faring much better in the first half, but entered the break with a 19-12 lead. Fortunes, though, changed for both teams in the second half.

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

Karns City shot much better. Keystone’s drought became historic.

The Gremlins held the Panthers to just two field goals and five points in the final 16 minutes to come away with a 44-24 home win Wednesday night.

“Really, I just told them (at halftime), ‘We gotta get back to the basics and back to what we’ve been trying to do,’” said Karns City coach Zach Kepple. “We were very timid in the first half, settling for a lot of 3-pointers. When you’re shooting well, that’s all fine and good. But we weren’t.”

Karns City was just 5 of 20 from the field in the first two quarters. Keystone was a little better at 8 of 19.

Cole Henry had nine points in the first half for the Panthers and just three in the second half as he got into foul trouble.

Keystone went 12 minutes between field goals at one point. The Panthers attempted just three shots in the third quarter — turnovers conspiring to limit the offense. Keystone was 2 of 14 from the field in the second half.

It’s been indicative of the historic early struggles for the Panthers, who are still trying to figure out a rotation and an identity.

Keystone (1-2) scored just 12 points Saturday night in a loss to DuBois. The Panthers did win their opener, 54-39, over Cochranton.

But 36 points in the last two games is one of the lowest-scoring back-to-back games of Keystone coach Greg Heath’s long coaching career.

“I think it’s become a partly mental thing now, too,” Heath said. “Guys didn’t put enough work in in the offseason, and that’s catching up with us. All we can do is just keep plugging away and hope we start getting better.”

Karns City’s defense had a lot to do with that. The Gremlins hounded Bret Wingard all night, collapsing on the senior whenever he got the ball. Wingard was held scoreless.

“They did a terrific job on Bret,” Heath said. “He was just smothered.”

Meanwhile, Karns City’s offense heated up after the half.

The Gremlins made their first four shots of the third quarter, quickly erasing that seven-point deficit. Karns City’s run swelled to 20-2 before Henry sank a free throw to end Keystone’s long scoring drought.

Taite Beighley was a big reason for the surge. The point guard was 3-of-3 shooting in the second half and handled the ball well, getting everyone involved.

Luke Cramer scored all 10 of his points in the second half. Cole Sherwin scored eight of his 10 points after the break.

Beighley finished with a game-high 13.

“Taite did a great job of just handling the pressure, for one,” Kepple said. “And then he did a good job getting to the basket in the second half.”

Karns City also got a boost from the return of Luke Garing, who played with his splinted left thumb, injured during the football season, heavily wrapped.

It’s going to be a game-by-game thing for Garing. Some officiating crews, like the one Tuesday, will give the OK to his heavy, thick bandage to shield the splint. Some may not.

“It was great to have Luke back. We didn’t even know until game time whether he was going to be allowed to play,” Kepple said. “It’s going to depend on what the head official says. He’s going to go back later in the month to see if he can play without that splint. He was able to play tonight and he really helped us on the glass.”

Garing gives Karns City another presence inside to go with Cramer. Garing scored four points, but he also had a handful of key rebounds down the stretch.

Despite the 3-0 start, Kepple said there is still much to work on.

The first-year head coach was not pleased with the sputtering first half. He was, though, thrilled with how his team responded after halftime adjustments.

“Kudos to them to take the coaching that we did at halftime and apply it out on the court,” Kepple said. “I gave them a lot of credit for taking the game plan we talked about and going out and doing it.”

For Heath, the one solace is it’s still early.

Perhaps in a month, these early, prodigious struggles will be looked at as just a strange blip.

“We have to get some things figured out,” Heath said. “You know, even coming into the season, I had no idea even who I was going to have, who was going to come out. There were some guys who didn’t come out for us that we hoped would and would have made a difference. But, what the heck, you go with the guys you have.

“It’s been difficult so far, trying to figure out who can come in and give you minutes. We can work it out. We will get it worked out.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.