BRUSHY PRAIRIE — Tony Everidge had seen enough by halftime to know where Wednesday's season-opening contest against Concord was heading. His team held a 20-point lead, the Minutemen had nearly as many turnovers as they did points and senior center Elijah Malone had just swatted a ball with such force out of bounds that it nearly knocked a spectator out of the game.
The best part about the 63-34 win, though, to the second-year coach of the Panthers was how much better this team will still become.
"It was a great win, and we did some impressive things, but it was the turnovers in the second half and some of the sloppy play that I focused on the most," Everidge said.
But even in trying to temper the excitement of what he just witnessed on the court, Everidge couldn't hold back a smile that slowly stretched across his face as he discussed the win.
Malone — the 6-foot-9, 250-pound monster in the middle of the Panthers' lineup — was quickly mentioned. The center scored 14 of his 19 points in the first half while adding team highs in rebounds (4), blocks (4) and assists (3).
Eight of those points came in the second quarter, including a stretch toward the end of the period which lasted about 90 seconds when he outscored Concord 6-2 by himself.
"I just try to be a presence," Malone said. "I'm not the quickest guy on the court, but I try to erase as many shots as I can and make sure no one wants to go down there (in the paint). Offensively, it's all about bringing that same physicality, but also being able to find my guards for spot-ups."
Heights turned to Malone early and often as its go-to offensive option, with him scoring six of the team's first 12 points, though he sat on the bench for large stretches of the second half, including the entire fourth quarter once the game was out of reach.
At no point, though, did Everidge's face light up more so than when discussing senior guard Mike Perkins.
"He's the glue to this team," Everidge said. "A lot of people in this area I think still do not understand how good he actually is. But, trust me, they'll know soon enough."
Perkins netted a game-high 22 points against Concord while adding three assists. Fourteen of those points came in the second half, the last of which, a free throw at the end of the third quarter, gave him 1,000 points in his career — becoming just the fourth Panthers player to reach the milestone.
"I was relieved for him," Everidge said of when he saw Perkins swish his final free throw. "Once he got to 17 (points), you could tell he started pressing a little more, trying to get there. This was something that was really important to him."
It was the play elsewhere on the court, though, that had Everidge feeling upbeat about his team's direction. With guard Brandon Christlieb out of the lineup for the game, it was the performance of players such as sophomore Logan Hamilton (six points) and junior Seth Troyer (four points, two assists and four steals) — players on the junior varsity team a year ago — which stuck out.
Troyer's performance on the defensive end produced several fastbreak layups for players such as Malone and Perkins, while Hamilton performed well as a spot-up three-point threat early in the game.
"At times (those players) played really well. But at times they also went back to some of their old ways," Everidge said. "We talk a lot about what is different between a contributor in a JV game and in a varsity game, and they seemed to understand.
"Obviously the first five guys are pretty solid, but if we can continue to get better as a total unit, this team can be very, very good."