by Jim Manion | Correspondent
Norton -- The Norton Panthers boys basketball team wrapped up its third Portage Trail Conference Metro Division championship in only four years in the Panther Den at Norton High School.
The Panthers used a 14-0 run at the end of the first half to take a double-digit lead and held on in the second half to claim a 56-46 victory over visiting Streetsboro.
The Norton win gives the Panthers (18-3, 12-1) a two-game advantage with only one division game remaining. The Rockets had won eight straight division games before falling to Norton.
"It's a tough place to play, especially on Senior Night," Streetsboro head coach Nick Marcini said. "They [the Panthers] were a little amped up. If you take out the second quarter, we win the game."
The Rockets (11-9, 10-3) had an 18-15 lead midway through the second quarter before the Panthers went on a 14-0 run.
Jeff Schulte led the Panthers' offensive attack by firing up five three-pointers and finishing the night with 18 points. Tyler Sherman closed with 14 points, eight coming at the foul line, while also pulling down a team-high nine rebounds. Javonte Smith finished the night with eight points.
"Brandon Gency did a great job on Sherman," Marcini said. "Sherman had three points going into the fourth quarter. We had to give up something. We wanted to focus on Sherman and Schulte hit five threes."
The final four minutes of the first half sewed up a lead that the Rockets would not be able to overcome. Streetsboro took a two-point lead in the final seconds of the first quarter on a three-pointer by Brandon Gency for a 9-7 advantage after one.
With the Rockets leading 18-15 with 4:28 remaining the half, the Panthers went on their run and Streetsboro could not find the basket for the final four minutes of the half.
Norton had five threes in the first half with Schulte hitting three long-range bombs. The Panthers took a 29-18 advantage into the locker room at intermission.
Gency led the Streetsboro scoring with 15 points, while Paul Jenkins scored 10. Rockets' leading scorer Jordan Matusik was held to only eight points.
Schulte opened the second half by hitting another three, then Matt McGlone scored inside and Norton maintained its advantage with a 43-29 lead after three quarters.
Streetsboro managed to cut the deficit to only nine points with 3 minutes, 26 seconds on the game clock, but the Panthers came back with five straight points at the free throw line and went up 54-40 with two minutes to play.
The Rockets, who earned a 55-39 win in the junior varsity contest, were scheduled to visit Nordonia Feb. 19. Results were not available at press time. Streetsboro is set to conclude the regular season against Metro Division foe Crestwood Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
"If we beat Crestwood, it guarantees us second place," Marcini said. "It's our seventh winning record in a row."
The sixth-seeded Rockets earned an opening-round bye in the Stow-Munroe Falls Division II sectional-district tournament.
They are set to play the Akron East-Pepper Pike Orange winner in a sectional title contest March 2 at 2:30 p.m.
"We're playing our best when we have four guys in double figures," Marcini said. "Jordan is our leading scorer, but teams have been cheating toward him. Brandon has had the role of point guard placed on his lap."