KNOB NOSTER — Knob Noster’s Iverson Sirom let out a joyous scream as he was getting mobbed by the Panther student section following the Panthers game on Friday, Feb. 14.
The Knob Noster-faithful and Sirom had every reason to celebrate after the Panthers succeeded in doing what other teams had tried to do, but failed at 21 times this year — beat Crest Ridge.
Sirom and Co. produced an instant classic by knocking off the Class 2 No. 7 Cougars 59-53 in front of a packed gym, ending Crest Ridge’s 21-game winning streak.
“Iverson Sirom set the tone early when he got after Cole Schmidli and got a couple of turnovers,” Knob Noster coach Mike Baker said. “I didn’t think they had an answer for Iverson.”
The junior set the tone for the Panthers, scoring seven of Knob Noster’s first 12 points as the home team jumped out to a 12-2.
“I thought we came out with a lot of intensity, a lot of enthusiasm and played probably our best game of the year against a state ranked team,” Baker said. “They are every bit the team that we thought they were, but I just thought we played a little bit better, a little bit harder.”
The Panthers took advantage of some early, uncharacteristic turnovers by the Cougars.
“We had silly turnovers,” Crest Ridge coach Brent Behler said. “It’s just one of those things where it seemed like it was snowballing.”
Baker stressed getting off to a good start after Tuesday’s, Feb. 11, loss to Richmond in which Knob Noster fell behind by 17 in the opening half in a 73-55 defeat.
“We got blown out by Richmond on Tuesday and just came out flatter than anything, so it was a key,” Baker said. “We needed to come out and set the tone and let them know that they were in for a dogfight.”
Crest Ridge woke up after the opening jolt and responded with a 7-0 run to end the first quarter, trimming the deficit down to three, 12-9.
The Cougars fought within two in the second quarter, 15-13, but a Lane Elwell three helped propel Knob Noster into the halftime intermission with a 26-20 lead.
Crest Ridge opened the second half with a 5-2 burst in the first two minutes of the third quarter to cut the deficit down to three, 28-25.
The Cougars switched to a 1-3-1 defense coming out of the break, which stunned the Panthers momentarily, but Crest Ridge was unable to take advantage of the break.
“We stopped being aggressive,” Baker said. “We stopped our dribble penetration, which was really successful early in the game and settled for some outside shots. Once we got back into drive and looking for diagonal passes, I thought it opened up things for Kellen (Foster) and (Anthony) Lopez outside.”
Lopez cracked the Crest Ridge zone with back-to-back 3-pointers, opening up an eight-point advantage, 40-32.
“In the third quarter, we mixed up our defense, kind of doing some things that we weren’t supposed to that cost us some buckets — those two corner threes,” Behler said. “All together, it was just one of those nights.”
Knob Noster went into the final frame with a 40-34 lead.
Crest Ridge came within four, 42-38, following a Will Taylor 3-pointer and a free throw by Jaden Ring, who finished with 11 points and fouled out, then cut it down to a possession game, 45-42, with two makes at the charity stripe by Schmidli.
The Panthers answered with an 8-0 run to stake out a double-digit lead of 53-42, on the back of a free throw by Foster, who finished with 11 points.
“We just didn’t play our ‘A’ game, just did some minor things that we normally do well that we weren’t doing tonight and it came back to bite us,” Behler said.
Crest Ridge made a last ditch effort to come back, but Knob Noster held the Cougars off by converting nine free throws.
“We came out flat, we didn’t play our basketball, we didn’t shoot well and we kind of got caught up in being 21-0 and state ranked,” Schmidli said. “It’s a good lesson to learn now before districts. We got a conference championship to play for next week and districts, so this’ll make us better before that.”
Tucked within the upset was a history-making moment for Schmidli. With less than a minute to play, the senior fought for a layup, giving him 21 points on the night and tying the all-time career points mark at Crest Ridge.
Thirty seconds later, Schmidli sank a pair of free throws, putting him alone at the top of the career scoring list, finishing the night with a game-high 23 points and 1,625 points for his career.
“It’s something I’ve always strived for, something I’ve worked for and my teammates made this possible,” Schmidli said. “Without them, none of this is possible.”
As a four-year starter for the Cougars, Schmidli has averaged over 400 points per season and sits at 411 points through 22 games this year.
Behler, who took over the Cougars with Schmidli as a freshman, credits the senior’s dogged effort in the offseason to his success.
“He puts in the work, he comes in the summer,” Behler said. “I think he has missed less than five total days of summer workouts and if you add in practices, it’s still less than five and that means a lot. It should set a prime example for the other kids coming up, like this is how you have to do it if you want to get it done. You have to put in the work and he has put in the work and he deserves everything he gets.”
Sirom led the Panthers with 20 points. Lopez finished with 13 points, all in the second half.
“We played as a team and when we play together, that shows our true colors,” Sirom said.
Knob Noster moves to 15-6 on the year, injecting a signature win into the Panther’s first winning season since 2015 and all, but locks up the No. 1 seed in the Class 3 District 10 bracket.
“It’s huge,” Baker said. “These guys had never had a winning season in basketball, the seniors haven’t. To get this big win against a state ranked team, we were kind of doubting ourselves after getting blown out by Richmond on Tuesday.”
The Panthers will travel to Carrollton on Monday, Feb. 17, then host the Trojans the following night, Tuesday, Feb. 18, before closing out the regular season at Lexington on Thursday, Feb. 20.
Crest Ridge drops to 21-1 on the year after tasting defeat for the first time in 359 days.
“In the grand scheme of things, this game doesn’t mean anything to me,” Behler said. “We want to play in a district championship. We want to play in a conference championship.”
The Cougars will have a shot at an I-70 regular season title, wrapping up the regular season with road games against Sweet Springs on Tuesday, Feb. 18, and against St. Paul on Thursday, Feb. 20.
With a win on Tuesday by the Cougars, both Crest Ridge and St. Paul will enter the contest undefeated in I-70 play, setting up a winner-take-all showdown.
The Cougars took down the Saints 70-59 in the I-70 tournament championship game on Dec. 14.
“It’s definitely a wake up call,” Schmidli said. “We are getting everyone’s best shot. You know how much it meant to them to beat us and we’ve got to take that into perspective and learn from and get better from it and not let arrogance get in the way. Just refocus. We haven’t accomplished anything yet, so our record only means so much.”