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story.lead_photo.caption Bud Sullins/Special to the Herald-Leader Siloam Springs senior Spencer Lashley goes up for a shot in traffic against Stilwell, Okla., on Dec. 15. Lashley and the Panthers host Claremore, Okla., at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the Siloam Springs Holiday Classic.

The Siloam Springs boys basketball team is making strides, even if the results aren't always visible on the scoreboard.

The Panthers went into Christmas break with a 1-10 record overall in their first 11 games, including a tough 60-57 loss to Stilwell, Okla., in their last outing on Dec. 15.

But improvements are being made, even if they aren't readily seen to the casual observer just watching the games, according to head coach Tim Stewart.

"I think the main thing is the leadership we've got in the midst of adversity has been really encouraging," Stewart said. "The practices have been very competitive. Their spirits are still high and good. It's not one of those where it's bitter or there's finger pointing. We've had a lot of maturity shown from the seniors all the way down to the sophomores. They've kept their core values that we talk about: integrity, character and toughness and they've put those on display in practice, and I think that's why we're still seeing improvement. Now the hard part is, they haven't gotten the payoff yet. We've done all the baby steps to get better, and we haven't quite gotten the payoff on the scoreboard."

The Panthers are optimistic that they'll see some of that payoff this week in the seventh annual Siloam Springs Holiday Classic, which begins Thursday at Panther Activity Center.

Siloam Springs will play at 8:30 p.m. Thursday against Claremore, Okla., in the final game of the first day. Other boys games on the first day include Rogers versus Prairie Grove at 11:30 a.m., Shiloh Christian versus Coweta, Okla., at 2:30 p.m. and Springdale versus Tulsa NOAH at 5:30 p.m.

"It's a solid tournament with large schools and smaller schools that are talented," Stewart said. "It's going to be competitive."

All of the teams participating in the tournament have had a measure of success.

The Panthers are 15-6 all time in the tournament and won championships in 2012 and 2013.

NOAH (Northeastern Oklahoma Association of Homeschools) won the tournament in 2014, while Springdale won it the year after in 2015.

Rogers has played in the tournament championship game the last two seasons, while Shiloh Christian has also played in the tournament title game in 2013.

Coweta and Prairie Grove both scored victories over host Siloam Springs in last year's tournament.

The Panthers will be playing a Zebras team that won last year's tournament and has played in the finals in the previous two tournaments.

Siloam Springs' first-round opponent, Claremore, is the school where Stewart previously served as head coach before coming to Siloam Springs in 2011. The Zebras finished state runner-up in Oklahoma Class 5A last season.

"They lost some of those seniors, but still those kids were a part of that and it's going to be a real challenge for us," Stewart said. :It's one of those where you try to be fair and seed (the tournament) to the best of your abilities. I don't know if you can ever truly seed it perfectly, but obviously we want to try and make it fair for all the participants and not just try to set it up completely in our favor. We think it's nice and it's a luxury to play three home games. Obviously at this point we want to play teams that are going to challenge us and we want to see the improvements heading into the conference season. I think it will be a positive experience for us."

Siloam Springs senior forward Spencer Lashley leads the Panthers in scoring at 12.1 points per game, but over his last eight games that average has been closer to 14 points per game.

"Spencer has been extremely coachable throughout this stretch," Stewart said. "He's been consistent the last handful of games for sure where he's averaging close to 14 a game. It's not just shooting those comfortable threes. He's improved his game where he's putting it on the floor. He's getting to the glass. He's getting the putbacks. He's being a well-rounded player. That's fun to see. That's growth on Spencer's part and we're really proud of him."

Junior guard Murphy Perkins also has stepped up his offensive game recently. After a four-game stretch, where he only scored 21 points combined, Perkins has averaged 14 points per game in his last three games.

"Murphy is a tough competitor and plays with really good energy," Stewart said. "He's one of those where he can make a mistake and with his effort and energy he makes up for it. He's one of those guys where you like watching him play. He's playing 110 miles an hour and yes he still has a lot of room for improvement, but man we never question his desire and his effort he puts out there. He's a tough kid that plays hard."

Perkins is averaging 8.2 points per game overall, while Marquan Sorrells is around six points per game. Sorrells leads the team in rebounding, followed by Lashley and Perkins.

"Marquan has been a bright spot," Stewart said. "He's another one where he's going to be like Spencer. He's going to find his niche and he's going to be able to put more points on the board and still give us the rebounding and the really good wing defense that he's been playing. His leadership has also been really positive."

Senior Tyler Pettit and junior Jacob Wakefield lead the team in charges taken, a big toughness stat the Panther coaches like to highlight.

"Tyler Pettit gets everything he can get out of his stature and plays the bottom of our zone (defense)," Stewart said. "He leads the team in charges taken and is probably the best vocal leader we have on the team and a really good influence. Jacob is second on the team in charges taken, a good rebounder and plays on the defensive end really well. Confidence is growing with the ball in his hands. We're looking for good things in this second season."

Sports on 12/27/2017

Print Headline: Panthers improving despite tough start

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