BLOOMFIELD — It was a tremendous effort.
Maybe the best effort of the season by the Davis County girls basketball team.
Still, Jeff Graves wanted his team to remember one thing even after an inspired fight against three-time reigning South Central Conference champion Knoxville. The Panthers held off the young Mustangs, earning a 64-52 win that was much tougher than expected.
Knoxville improved to 6-0 on the season and is 3-0 in the SCC, continuing the team's quest for a fourth straight conference title. Davis County, meanwhile, fell to 2-6 overall with an 0-3 SCC record.
It was definitely an effort the Mustangs could be proud of. Graves, however, is hoping his team is not satisfied with being competitive against the best team in the conference.
"Let's not forget that we lost the game. We don't play the game to lose it," Graves said. "That would be the only negative. The positive is that we played some pretty good basketball for three of the four quarters."
In the end, a 16-2 run for the Panthers to end the first quarter made the difference. Davis County was forced into eight turnovers and took several quick shots while being sped up by the Knoxville defense.
"Their pressure defense really took it to us," Graves said. "We're not used to someone being in our belly button. We finally got the girls convinced that, when they're up that close to drive and we were able to finish off some shots."
After scoring just eight points in the opening quarter, Davis County matched Knoxville's first-quarter total in the second scoring 19 points. Briley Lough scored nine points in the first half for the Mustangs, the team's third highest-scoring quarter of the season in eight games.
"We were excited and very focused for this one," Davis County junior Macy Hill said. "We've been working hard to face our conference teams and do what we can. Focus is a big part for us. If we get our minds in it, we can do a lot more."
Hill, Davis County's leading scorer with 14.7 points per game, bounced back after being shut out by the Panthers in the first half scoring 10 of her team-leading 15 points in the third quarter. The Mustangs scored eight straight points to close the period, cutting Knoxville's lead to 50-39.
"We just needed to decide to take it to them," Hill said. "We flipped a mental switch to get where we needed to get to."
Hill scored on a drive off a defensive rebound and scored on a tough runner in the lane with 3:50 left, pulling Davis County within 54-45. Maggie Wilkins would finally end the Mustang threat, scoring a twisting jumper in the lane before taking the ball away from Hill and scoring on a drive while being fouled, capping a 24-point, six-steal night for the Panthers.
Emma Dunkin added 19 points and matched Wilkins with four assists for the Panthers. Tara Uitermarkt added 11 points and seven rebounds.
Sydney Henderson came off the bench to score 10 points for Davis County. Briley and Jalee Lough each scored nine points for the Mustangs while Sophia Young led Davis County with nine rebounds and seven assists.
Davis County will host Clarke on Tuesday, Jan. 5.
"This is something very positive to build on heading into the holiday break," Graves said. "We're just looking for that one spark that makes us more consistent after the break. Hopefully, that spark came tonight."