BRISTOLVILLE - The hardest thing to do for a basketball team that isn't participating in a celebratory cutting of the nets is to watch.
The team can seek shelter in the locker room, but the walls are never thick enough to keep the sound from entering. With each cut of a string comes another cheer that is a reminder that the other team is enjoying something special.
The Bristol Panthers had that sinking feeling after a loss to the Mathews Mustangs late last season. Watching the Mustangs cut down the nets after clinching the Northeastern Athletic Conference title, the Panthers vowed to make sure a ladder was available when they clinched the NAC crown this season.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Bristol’s Aaron Wiebe (21) holds up a piece of the net and celebrates Bristol’s undefeated home-court record with his teammates after defeating Mathews, 87-61.
That moment came after a 43-point 9
"Last year we went to Mathews and they won it, and they cut down the nets," Panthers coach Craig Giesy said. "It's something we talked about all summer long. When Mathews comes to our place, we want to have that feeling. We want to cut down the nets.
"It's something the boys did tonight. They came out with a lot of intensity, especially Oliver, and got a win for us."
The Panthers (21-0 and 13-0 in the NAC) can clinch an undefeated record with a win Tuesday at Southington. The Mustangs are 8-13 and 5-7 in the NAC.
Oliver put on a show, breaking the homecourt scoring record he set last Saturday with 41 points against Geneva. Oliver was in a zone, doing most of his damage on drives to the basket. He made 15 field goals and was 11-of-12 at the foul line.
Giesy removed Oliver with 3:54 remaining in the fourth quarter. Had Oliver continued playing, he might have reached the 50-point plateau.
"The last (home) game and I wanted to leave everything out here on the court," Oliver said. "I have to thank my teammates because without them we wouldn't be where we are."
The performance came on what turned into a special Senior Night. The best part came when Oliver took his turn going up the ladder with scissors in hand.
"That's been our goal all year," Oliver said. "It definitely motivated us from what we saw last year with them cutting down the nets. We got a chance to do the same tonight. It's a really great feeling."
The Panthers thrived off defensive pressure and scored throughout in transition. Giesy was able to use 14 players, with nine denting the scoring column. Brandon Lee, Zeth Tomasiak, Zak Dibell and Aaron Wiebe each produced nine points.
"We challenge them to play hard every game," Giesy said. "We run a big rotation, and they know if they don't get those 50/50 balls they're not playing. When they go on the floor they know they have to give 100 percent. At the same time they know they're going to come out in two or three minutes and get a spell."
The Mustangs bounced back from deficits of 9-0 and 16-4 to trail by seven, 22-15, after the first quarter. Oliver had 13 points in the period.
The Panthers slowly pulled away in the second period, stretching their lead to 45-32 at halftime. Bristol led 63-49 though three periods.
"I'd like to say that's not the best basketball team I've ever seen, but by far that's a team that puts everything on the court every game," Mustangs coach Jason Lee said. "They're up 20 and they have kids diving. That's a credit to their coaching staff and every player on their bench. I've never seen anything like that."
Andy Morgan scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Mathews. Aaron Suchanek had 11 points and Wyatt Ford added 10.
The Panthers have a combined 20-2 home record the last two seasons. All Giesy had to do was look into the stands to begin handing out thanks.
"A big credit to our fans," Giesy said. "It's loud in here every night. They come out and support us. They give us homecourt advantage every time we play here."