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LECANTO — From the Panthers’ Den, the Lecanto boys basketball team was upset by visiting Dunnellon 75-66 Friday night, as the hosts of the Chris Nichols Christmas Classic fell in the finale by struggling for much of the first half and coming up short in a valiant late comeback attempt.
Mikey Makros (game-high 24 points) led the late charge for Lecanto (10-3 overall), as the Panthers nearly dug out of a 50-22 hole late in the third quarter. Lecanto carried a 17-4 run into the fourth, as Makros and Thomas Vilardi each hit a pair of three pointers in the stretch to cut the deficit to 54-41.
With 2:07 remaining, Richie Rizzolo (11 points) put up a three from the wing that rolled around the rim before bouncing in, getting the Panthers to within 64-57. Dunnellon’s Andre Jackson responded with a three-pointer on the other end, then watched Brandon Burich hit a contested three from the corner, making it 67-60.
But the Tigers (4-10 overall) hit their free throws down the stretch while Lecanto did not, making the hole just too much for the Panthers to overcome.
Lecanto trailed 30-16 at the half, and Dunnellon broke it wide open in the third, with balanced scoring and maintaining composure against the Panthers’ signature full-court press.
“I think early in the game they just came out with a lot more energy than we did,” Lecanto head coach Frank Vilardi said. “We were settling for shots, and we’re not going to beat anybody by scoring 16 points in the first half.”
After a Makros three-pointer made it 32-19 early in the third, Dunnellon embarked on an 18-3 run to take a commanding 28-point lead.
Desmond Frazier and Willie Robinson hit consecutive threes for the Tigers, and the rout was on. And midway through the fourth, when Lecanto responded with their own big run, Dunnellon did just enough to hold the Panthers back.
Makros’ final of four three-pointers made it a 10-point game with four minutes left, but the Tigers broke Lecanto’s press to find Chris Jackson downcourt, who took two dribbles into the lane before throwing down an emphatic one-handed dunk over the lone Panther defender at the other end. Jackson had 14 points and six rebounds for Dunnellon while Frazier finished with 10 points and five rebounds.
The Tigers refused to be rattled by the Panther press, aggressively protecting their lead down the stretch by attacking.
“At that point in time when you’re down by that much, you’ve got to take some chances, and when you do, they’re going to make you pay,” Vilardi said. “You’ve got to give them credit down the stretch there.”
Ngqabutho Sigogo led the way for Dunnellon, as the 6-foot-7 center scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Dunnellon outrebounded Lecanto 34-23 on the night.
Vilardi took the game as a learning experience for his team immediately after.
“We found some kids that want to play hard. The five or six kids that played at the end, I’m really proud of them,” Vilardi said. “They played hard, never gave up and we’ll learn from this.”
Lecanto travels to the Amway Arena in Orlando to face Melbourne for a 1 p.m. game Tuesday.