Potomac's Mark Cunningham stepped on the court last night a little unsure of what to expect at the start of the Panthers' season-opening game against Chancellor. Cunningham had been visiting family in New York during Potomac's two preseason scrimmages over Thanksgiving weekend, and he feared the lack of game experience might leave him a little rusty.
Any of Cunningham's concerns were gone within the first few minutes, as the junior guard scored nine straight first-quarter points to help the No. 14 Panthers open an early lead en route to a 96-52 home victory.
Cunningham finished the first half with 15 points and--despite sitting on the bench much of the fourth quarter--led the Panthers with 22 points.
"I was kind of surprised. I didn't know what I was going to do," said Cunningham, who finished with a game-high three three-point baskets. "I was looking to do that coming out of the locker room. I was real excited, especially since this was my first game."
Chancellor (1-1) took a 2-0 lead to start the game but quickly became rattled by Potomac's man-to-man pressure defense, which caused 10 first-quarter turnovers. After senior forward Jernavis Draughn went the length of the floor for a layup to give Potomac a 9-2 lead, Cunningham took over. He connected on a three-pointer, then stole the ball at mid-court and converted it for a layup. Another Cunningham fast-break layup was followed by a long jump shot that put Potomac ahead, 18-5.
Although Potomac returned only Draughn from last season's starting lineup, the disappointment of last season's 7-5 finish in the Cardinal District--the Panthers had won the previous four district titles--still burns this year's team.
A return to championship form is Potomac's goal this season.
"It's very important," Cunningham said of winning the title. "We want to bounce right back to where we were the previous five years."
Potomac played 11 players, with 10 scoring at least two points. A sign of the team's depth came midway through the third quarter, when Panthers Coach Kendall Hayes substituted five reserves at once to spell the starters.
Although Hayes said the decision was simply dictated by the frantic pace of the game, it is a luxury that excites him.
"I'm hoping we can have some solid depth this season," Hayes said. "We're going to need it, because there are a lot of teams in our district who are also going to have plenty of depth. . . . A lot of times you come out in the third quarter and are a little winded. We've got a lot of guys on the bench capable of playing."
Draughn finished with 16 points and three blocks, and senior guard Anthony Jones tallied 13 points.