"It was a great game. Looked a little like the first game," said St. Mary's head coach Brad Wilkening. "We came out early, jumped on a big lead and then started settling on outside shots and let them climb right back in the game at halftime. In the third quarter, we were struggling defensively and let them get the lead. Down the stretch, we showed a lot more composure than we did over there earlier in the year. It was a hard-fought battle."
It appeared as if St. Mary's would run away with the game during the early going, leading by as many as 15 in the first quarter alone at 21-6. Newell-Fonda responded by leaning on their physical play, scrapping back within 21-11 at the end of the first and 27-22 at half time.
A basket and free-throw by Brady Dicks gave Newell-Fonda their first lead at 28-27 with 6:40 left in the third. They would push their lead to 35-29 with four minutes remaining.
"They were breaking us down defensively," said Wilkening. "Anytime you play Newell-Fonda, it's going to be real physical, and we're just not a real physical team. In the middle of the game we let the pushing and shoving work against us and they got us out of tempo."
As he did in Newell back on November 30th, Luke Lenhart got the Panthers back in it by using his quickness and penetration to earn repeated trips to the foul line. A 1-for-2 trip at the stripe by Lenhart brought St. Mary's back equal at 37-37 with 2:43 to play.
Baskets from Lenhart and Drey, who found his groove down low in the second half, gave the Panthers a 45-37 lead to cap off a 10-0 run late in the third. The Mustangs scrapped back again, however, as a Matt Juilfs through made it 45-40 heading into the fourth.
"We gave that lead up and came right back and got to Kennedy on the inside," said Wilkening. "Luke was able to dribble penetrate inside the defense. He was able to get to the line, and that was big."
Newell-Fonda proceeded to level it at 45-45, but a Josh Demers three in the final two minutes of the quarter opened up an 11-point lead for the Panthers, who would hold Newell-Fonda off at the line the rest of the way to lock up the victory and outright lead of the Twin Lakes Conference.
Lenhart knocked down 7-of-13 from the floor and 12-of-17 at the line on his way to 26 points. He added four rebounds and three steals. Drey had a much more impressive outing than in their first meeting, hitting 11-of-15 from the floor for 25 points. He battled impressively on the glass for 17 rebounds to go with two blocks.
Joe Sandhoff was held under double figures for just the second time this season as he finished with five points and seven rebounds before leaving with a knee injury in the fourth quarter.
"I don't know much. He said he could still come back in the game," said Wilkening. "I saw him afterward and he was hobbling pretty heavy. He hurt it in a game about a week ago. Hopefully he'll be ready to go by Friday, but we'll just take it day-to-day."
Josh Demers added five points and four assists for the Panthers, and Dillan Smith and three points and six assists.
The Panthers (12-0) finished 22-of-39 from the floor, 3-of-10 from three and 17-of-24 at the line. St. Mary's ends their four game home-stand and will be on the road Friday night at Manson Northwest Webster (11-3).
Brady Dicks led the Mustangs in the loss, hitting 6-of-11 from the field and 3-of-5 from three for 17 points, five rebounds and three steals. Dalton Anderson had 11 points and four rebounds, Andrew Temple had eight points and four rebounds, and Dillon Anderson eight points and four assists.
Newell-Fonda (9-4) was 22-of-48 from the floor, 5-of-11 from three and 5-of-6 at the line.
The Mustangs are back on the road Friday night to take on winless Southeast Webster.