Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 | 11:49 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer fill out their brackets for the Sunset and Sunrise regional tournaments.
As Eris Winder approached the free-throw line with 18 seconds left in his team’s game against Durango Tuesday, the Palo Verde senior leaned his head back and yawned for a quick moment.
He could have kept taking in air for a few more seconds. Winder deserved a deep exhale at minimum after the dazzling display of basketball he put on for the previous 15 minutes.
Winder scored 23 of his 24 points in the second half against Legacy, enabling Palo Verde to overcome an 18-point halftime deficit to win 63-59 in the first round of the Sunset Regional playoffs.
“I could see he was pressing,” Palo Verde coach Paul Sanchez said of Winder’s slow start in the first half. “He was trying to do too much and not just letting the game come to him as he did in the second half. He got a chance to catch his breath a little bit at halftime. And then, we come out and play our normal game where everyone chips in and Eris leads us.”
For the third straight year under Winder’s watch, the Panthers advanced to the regional semifinals. Palo Verde takes on Bishop Gorman at 8 Thursday night at Durango.
This after Gorman’s staff was ready to start scouting Legacy at halftime. With Winder on the bench for the opening six minutes because of a violation of team rules, the Panthers had no offensive rhythm.
It didn’t get much better when he checked in, as the Longhorns went on a 16-2 run aided by three Winder turnovers.
“I was kind of down on myself with some stuff that happened earlier today,” Winder said. “I had to put that off to the side for this game because I didn’t want to go out my senior year this way.”
Legacy led by as much as 19 behind strong games from Khari Sloane — 13 points, six rebounds, three blocks and three steals — and Donovan Gray — seven points, five rebounds and five assists.
But the Panthers clamped down on defense starting in the third quarter and let that spark their offense. They out-scored the Longhorns 21-6 in the period to get back into the game.
“We were able to settle down right away in the second half by putting some baskets down,” Sanchez said.
Deciding to escape double teams on the perimeter by posting up down low, the 6-foot-1 Winder made several of those buckets. The fourth quarter was when he really went off, though.
Winder scored 12 points in six minutes, which included sinking all four free-throw attempts, making a turnaround fadeaway off of the glass and jumping over the defense for an alley-oop on an in-bounds pass.
His first miscue seemed to come with 30 seconds left and the Panthers trailing 60-59. Winder threw up a floater from the free-throw line that completely missed the rim, but landed in the hands of senior forward Sam Hutchings.
Hutchings converted an easy layup that turned into the game-winning score.
“Right place, right time,” Hutchings said. “The ball fell in my hands and I went up to score.”
That’s a humble description that might describe one play, but Hutchings’ performance as a whole was much more glamorous. He was the Panthers lone constant against the Longhorns.
Without Winder on the floor, Hutchings scored the team’s first eight points. Hutchings finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in what Sanchez thought was the best game he had ever played.
Hutchings was just excited to extend the season.
“We’ve had a ton of injuries and other team problems, but our guys have been fighting all year long,” Sanchez said. “I think we’ve gotten used to having to fight for everything we get. I’m real glad to see that they get another chance to play another night.”