Overcoming a sluggish start that featured missed shots near the basket, clangs off the rim from the perimeter and a double-digit deficit, visiting Royall turned things around during the final 10 minutes of the game to post a 58-51 victory over Ithaca in a non-conference game between two of the state's better WIAA Division 5 teams.
The Bulldogs raced out to a 17-3 lead eight minutes into the contest and still led, 32-24, at intermission.
Ithaca junior guard Channing Brown scored a basket with 10:52 left to give the Bulldogs a 43-32 advantage. The game was stopped briefly to honor Brown, who surpassed 1,000 career points with his previous hoop.
But from that point on, Royall dug in on defense, moved the ball on offense, hit some big three-point baskets and took a 50-48 lead on a three-pointer from senior Tyrus Wildes with 3:21 to go.
Ithaca tied it up on the other end, but Wildes' twin brother, senior forward Tucker Wildes, completed a three-point play with just under a minute left to give Royall the lead for good at 53-50.
Royall, tied for first place in the loss column with Bangor and Cashton in the Scenic Bluffs Conference, improved to 14-2 and owns impressive wins over Cashton and Ithaca in the last seven days.
Ithaca, deadlocked for the top spot in the Ridge & Valley Conference in the loss column with North Crawford, slipped to 13-2.
Ben Crneckiy, 6-2, Jr., G/F, Royall
A three-year varsity performer for the Panthers, Crneckiy came off the bench to score a team-best 17 points. It matched his career high and was well above his season mark of 6.2 ppg. Crneckiy's production on offense was sorely needed as the Panthers netted just 24 points in the first half and had just 32 through the first 28 minutes. Crneckiy had three triples and got to the foul line for five attempts as his aggressiveness gave Royall a shot in the arm in its comeback. "Ben is a player certainly capable of leading us in scoring," Royall coach Scott Uppena said. "I have eight or nine kids capable of doing that. It all balances out over the course of a season, but all of our guys get that chance to top us in scoring."
For a while, it felt like a baseline triple from Ithaca's Micah Salisbury just before the halftime buzzer would be the play of the game. Salisbury's shot gave the Bulldogs an eight-point halftime lead and momentum heading into the second half. But Royall never flinched, despite being down double digits with just over 10 minutes left. The biggest shot of the game was Tyrus Wildes' top-of-the-key three with 3:24 left. That bomb gave Royall its first lead of the contest and swung the momentum clearly in the Panthers favor.
Tucker Wildes, 6-5, Sr., F, Royall
Wildes isn't a huge scorer (6.4 ppg), but his physical presence and muscle near the basket are big assets for Royall. He used his strong post-up game in the lane to score the basket that gave the Panthers the lead for good with just under a minute left. Wildes caught the ball in the middle of the lane in front of the basket, turned to the baseline and banked in the shot. An Ithaca defender tried to get a charge call on the play, but was called for a block. Wildes completed the three-point play and Royall never trailed again. "The Wildes brothers are twins, but their games are very opposite," Uppena said. "Tucker is a strong, 6-4 post player and Ty is more of a defender for us and a good spot-up shooter. They both made huge plays for us down the stretch."
"We got off to a slow start. I don't know how many two-foot shots we missed in the lane, but it was a lot. That was frustrating. But the guys showed that they are resilient. I think our depth wore them down a bit. Our depth just takes a toll on a team over the course of the game." -- Royall coach Scott Uppena
Ithaca had won eight games in a row, including a huge 69-61 triumph over rival North Crawford last Thursday ... Brown, one of the better players in the Ridge & Valley, finished with 17 points and used his quickness, athleticism and smooth jumper to keep Royall defenders a bit off balance ... Salisbury also finished in double figures for coach Michael Benson's squad as he had 14 points ... Salisbury is the lone senior who saw playing time for Ithaca, which hosts Necedah tonight before playing at De Soto Thursday and at home Friday against Weston.