If there’s any local team that has felt the pressure – and thrived under it – this season, it’s Snider.
The most memorable moment of the season would still have to be the 53-52 regular season win over Homestead on Jan. 17, when senior Jon Barnes Jr. hit a miracle three-quarters-length shot as time expired that sent Snider cheering section into ecstasy while shocking the Spartans’ side of the packed gym.
Just two games later, on Jan. 28, the Panthers trailed Churubusco most of the game before hitting three shots in the final 30 seconds, including another buzzer-beater from 3 to win 67-66. This time, it was junior Jade Moore who did the honors and was mobbed by his teammates.
When Snider traveled to Carroll on Jan. 31, Dillon Duff scored the go-ahead layup with about 15 seconds to go, and, for a change of pace, the Panthers’ defense was put on the spot. Junior Michael Eley put a hand in the face of the Carroll shooter as he made his last-second attempt and the shot rolled off the back of the rim, giving Snider yet another heart-pounding SAC win, 56-55.
Perhaps the most important factor that allows Snider to come up big again and again: The Panthers aren’t relying on one hero when the going gets tough.
Eley is an undeniable star (he’s averaging 21.2 points, and scored 30 in a loss to Blackhawk Christian on Tuesday), and Duff is averaging 16.9, but Barnes and Moore have also hit two of the most pressure-filled shots of the season.
“I think that’s really valuable,” Duff said. “We always say, ‘If you’re open, that’s your shot, shoot it. Everyone can shoot the ball. If you think this is your shot, take it.’ We don’t say, ‘You probably should pass the ball more.’ If you feel good about it, take that shot.”
Coach Jeremy Rauch said his team is full of gym rats, and that they can be confident under pressure because they put in some much extra time shooting.
“Michael’s in there all the time getting shots,” Rauch said. “Jon Barnes is in there every morning getting shots up on the gun. They’re workers, and you want to see good kids and hard workers rewarded, and it’s neat to see and rewarding as a coach.”
But that extra effort is no guarantee of success in a packed SAC.
The Panthers also prevailed by just two points over Homestead in the teams’ first meeting in the SAC Holiday tournament Dec. 28, and beat Bishop Dwenger 59-56 on Feb. 4. (Perhaps fittingly, their lone regular season SAC loss came by just three points, to Wayne in December.)
Despite the fact that Snider rarely seems to win easy – or perhaps because of the fact that the Panthers are so used to delivering under pressure – it is in as good a position as any team in the SAC standings. The Panthers (15-4, 6-1 SAC) are alone at the top (after Bishop Luers’ loss Tuesday, the Knights, Spartans and Chargers all have two losses), and Snider already has wins over Homestead and Carroll, who will play each other Feb. 21.
“There’s very, very good parity, and that’s what makes it fun and that’s what makes us stay hungry,” Rauch said of the SAC.