KNOXVILLE — A battle in the paint. This one saw the lengthy Pella Christian Eagles attack the paint and the glass on their way to a 75-59 victory over Knoxville on Monday night.
“It wasn't always pretty, but I was proud of our effort and toughness tonight to find a way to make some winning plays even when shots weren't falling,” Pella Christian head coach JD Boer said.
Eric Mulder eyed a big night from the jump for PC. He would score nine first quarter points, using his length well inside.
On the other end, the Eagles did not have an answer for Kieren Nichols, who sliced and diced his way to the rim for 10 first quarter points before driving and kicking it out to Luke Keitges for the corner three at the buzzer to put Knoxville ahead 15-14 after the first quarter.
Nichols and Keitges were going to be heavily leaned with Spencer Hixson and his 16 points per game out of the lineup.
The Panthers got another Keitges three but were then shutdown for most of the quarter with PC using a 9-3 run to claim the lead.
Mulder, who had to get some repairs after taking a hit on a Nichols drive, returned to the game late in the second quarter and finish the half with a statement slam to put the Eagles ahead 29-23 at the break.
A Jaxon Zuck three was followed by a Keitges three which cut the Knoxville deficit to four with 4:37 to go in the third quarter.
PC would dominate from there on, relentlessly attacking the glass and ripping off a 17-3 run to end the quarter and balloon their lead to 54-36.
“Credit Knoxville for doing a great job of taking us out of a rhythm offensively,” Boer said. “For much of the game, we really relied on our offensive rebounding to put points on the board. That's been a point of emphasis recently, and the guys have really accepted that challenge well. I was proud of our energy on the bench, which really gave us a big boost throughout the night.”
Nichols and Mulder would both have huge point-producing fourth quarters but the game was out of reach for the Panthers as Pella Christian came away with the win.
Nichols finished with 31 points for Knoxville with Keitges scoring 17 points of his own.
Mulder would finish with 25 points while Jaedon Huisman added 12 points for PC.
“Eric did a great job on the boards and playing tough inside all night,” Boer said. “I thought we had some productive performances from our guards as well. We're really starting to pass the ball better.”
Knoxville (5-3, 4-1 SCC) heads to Clarke (3-4, 2-2 SCC) on Friday at 8 p.m. while Pella Christian (4-6, 2-3 LHC) returns to conference play on Tuesday at 7:45 p.m. as they travel to Oskaloosa (1-7, 0-5 LHC).