With the first semester now firmly in the rearview mirror, one thing is for certain.
Something special is happening down in Lake Worth, FL.
The Palm Beach State Panthers closed out the first half of their season with a sparkling 13-1 record, and are currently the 17th-ranked team in the NJCAA Rankings. They have been on quite the roll since the 2016-17 season began, and show no signs of slowing down.
Palm Beach State won both games in the Battle by the Beach Classic to open the season, and followed that up with a pair of wins at the IRSC Classic a couple of weeks later. Their lone loss came at the hands of the Tallahassee Eagles as a part of the Florida JUCO Shootout, 84-69.
So, after a year in which the Panthers went a combined 24-8, and were ranked #3 in the country, how has Palm Beach State been able to continue the momentum generated last season?
Balance, depth, and a whole lot of talent.
With a roster that is decorated with talented players from across the country, and one from north of the border, the Panthers have several players who can step up on any given night and lead the team to a victory.
Palm Beach State opened the season with a stellar 11-game winning streak. Ten of their 11 wins over that span were by double digits, and they won all of their games by an average margin of 28.27 points per contest.
In just their second game of the season, the Panthers rolled right over Red Devil Academy in the Battle by the Beach Classic, cruising to the 110-31 victory.
For all of the non-mathematicians out there, that’s a 79-point(!) margin of victory. No, that is not a typo.
Their run came to an end at the hands of Tallahassee C.C. in the Florida JUCO Shootout, 84-69. The Eagles are one of the top teams in the country, and currently possess a 14-1 record of their own.
The Panthers rebounded nicely from their loss, scoring two narrow victories to close out the first semester in style. Their last game before the break was an 88-85 decision over Florida Southwestern State on the road. That gave the Panthers a 13-1 record, and solidified themselves as one of the top teams in the country over the first half of the year.
So, how exactly have the Panthers been so dominant?
For starters, nobody on the roster is averaging more than 22.6 minutes per contest (Travis Weatherington), and seven players are averaging at least 7.1 points per contest. When you add in freshman Clayton Henry, who is averaging 6.8 points per game on the year in a reserve role, the Panthers have several players who can hurt you on the offensive end of the floor.
One word comes to mind when trying to describe the offense for the Panthers.
In all 14 of their games this year, at least two players have scored in double figures. On six occasions, five or more players have reached double digit points in a game.
Nine different players have either led the Panthers in scoring in a game, or tied for the team-high, so far this season. On Palm Beach State’s official website, they have 13 players on the roster, and two of those players haven’t seen action this season. So, nine of the eleven regulars have been atop the scoring charts for the Panthers in a game at some point this season.
In their massive win over Red Devil Academy in the second game of the season, six different players scored in double-figures on the night. To make things even better, all 11 players who checked into the game scored at least six points. You know where we’re going with this.
Wait for it.
With the exception of the games against Tallahassee C.C. (69 points) and St. Petersburg (67 points), the Panthers have scored at least 87 points on 12 occasions. They’ve topped the century mark on three occasions, and are now averaging 85.1 points per contest this season.
Leading the way is sophomore guard Travis Weatherington. He’s averaging a team-best 17.1 points per contest, while shooting 50.3% from the field.
Then, there’s Larry Mcknight, Jr., who transferred to the Panthers from the Wofford Terriers. The redshirt-freshman is averaging 14.5 points per contest, and he has led the team in scoring on six occasions this season.
On the transfer market, Mcknight is a highly sought-after prospect at the Division I level. He currently holds scholarship offers from six different schools from across the country. After his remarkable debut with the Panthers (29p, 5a, 4r, 4s), the Hofstra Pride offered him his sixth scholarship.
The Winthrop Eagles, North Carolina Central Eagles, FIU Golden Panthers, and Nicholls State Colonels are the others who have offered the 6’3” guard.
Guard Darius Allen is the third player on the Panthers to average double-digit points per game this season, as he’s chipping in 11.5 points per contest. The freshman has only started three games this season, but has provided the team a nice spark off the bench when called upon.
Freshman Clayton Henry is the lone Canadian on the roster, but is fitting in quite nicely with his new team. In a reserve role for the Panthers, he’s averaging 6.8 points per contest, which is good for the eighth-best mark on the team.
Whether its the starters, or the players off the bench, head coach Martin McCann has a talented bunch of players with a ton of offensive skills. This gives him the freedom to mix and match his lineups, which will in turn keep opposing defenses on their toes and keep things unpredictable.
With the exception of Tallahassee C.C., nobody has been able to completely figure out the Panthers’ game plan.
While the Panthers have been performing exceptionally well on the hardwood, the effects of their strong start to the season are also being seen off the court.
Last week, the Panthers gained a big commitment from 7’1” center Nathan Smith, who committed to the program after transferring from the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. With the season still relatively young, more players from top-tier programs could see the Panthers as their next home, in the hopes of re-launching their careers at the Division I level.
With the first semester in the books, the Panthers now get to enjoy a much-needed break before the New Year comes around. They return to the court on January 2nd, when they take on Rhode Island in their last non-conference game of the year.
Conference play opens up on Wednesday, January 4th against ASA Miami.
If the start of the year has been any indication, the Panthers shouldn’t be slept on as the calendar switches from 2016 to 2017. They have asserted themselves as one of the top programs in the country, and show no signs of slowing down in their pursuit of a National Championship.
They have the talent, they have the depth, and they have the balance on both ends of the floor to achieve their goal of a national title.
But, most importantly, they have the belief in themselves, and the belief in each other. Add in the momentum they’ve generated from their strong start, and there’s no telling what this team can accomplish this year.
Something special is on the horizon down in Lake Worth, FL. Something very special, indeed.
– T. Bennett