Coconino Panthers boys basketball head coach Mike Moran was glad to see his players start to break some bad habits this early in the season.
Ten Coconino players scored, with five recording five or more points, and the Panthers cruised to a victory over the Northland Prep Spartans, 56-24, Tuesday night in both the teams' season openers.
“We have a tendency to jack it up after one pass, and we worked together in the summer on that a little bit, it’s one of our weaknesses," Moran said after getting his first victory at Coconino since the 2001 season, his last with the Panthers prior to his recent return. "But once we get patient, get the ball inside, we have a chance to play very well. Then the outside opens up, and we have some good shooters out there.”
Emilio Esquivel recorded a game-high 11 points for the 4A Conference Panthers, who saw four players connect for five total 3-pointers. Coconino's Harding Eddie and Brandon Todacheenie each ended their nights with nine points, as the former put in one from long range and the latter added two from beyond the arc.
As the Panthers kept finding hot hands, the 2A Spartans struggled to get into an offensive flow. In the second quarter, Northland Prep, which dropped last year's game to Coconino 60-40, managed to put just one point on the board, and the Panthers took a commanding 32-7 lead into halftime.
“I thought we went up against a really well-coached team," said Spartans head coach Brett Larson. "They seemed to have identified the defense we were in very quickly and knew how to break it down. So it was a good effort, the guys worked really hard and we will learn from this for the next game.”
After draining all of their 3s in the first half, the Panthers penetrated the paint more in the second half courtesy of ball movement. Esquivel did most of his damage in the third quarter, putting up six points as he and teammate Joram Watson went on a surge to help the team take a 50-20 lead in the final quarter.
“It’s a big factor in the game of basketball," Moran said of his team sharing the ball.
Watson tallied eight points, six coming in the third stanza, and his block early out of the break turned into a Eddie layup. Not long after denying another Spartans player a shot, Watson found Toby Freeman for an easy shot near the basket during a 10-0 run that ended when Jack Berger put in a shot under the rim as time expired.
Freeman and Tanner McNeese each added four points for the Panthers.
Cameron Larson led the Spartans in scoring with seven, and Adam Nicol and Brody Hibbert contributed five apiece. The Spartans came out of the locker room and had their best quarter of the night at 13 points as Hibbert hit his team's lone 3 and Larson connected for two of his three total field goals.
“I think we did a little better of a job screening off the ball,” Brett Larson said of the second half.
After going scoreless in the opening quarter, Coconino's Brett McGowan, who had seven points, took part in all nine of the early second-quarter points, including a 3 and a shot from the elbow to go with an assist to Eddie on a fast break. Northland Prep's Cameron Larson stopped the bleeding with a free throw.
“Northland Prep was really tough," Moran said. "They came out here on opening day on our court and played us tough and showed a lot of character.”
While the Panthers get back into action on Thursday, Nov. 30, the Spartans play host for the first time this season Saturday when they face the 3A Tuba City Warriors for a game at 7 p.m.