After going down big early, Pickering battled back to take Merryville to brink, but the Panthers pulled away late for the win.

Led by 16 points and seven boards from Payton Day, Merryville used its size and hit shots late to defeated the Red Devils 54-52 at Schiro-Heard Gym.

"I try to do that most of the time," Merryville coach Maurice Black said. "We just got Marshall Sweet back from football. He's only had about three good workouts. I've been working with the rest of the guys for about two months. We were in sync the first quarter and the second quarter, we got away from it a bit. We got into too much foul trouble."

Merryville (1-1) used its rebounding and post moves to to get out to a 20-11 lead in the first quarter.

The Red Devils counteracted the size with speed a full-court trap and closed the gap 20-11 at the end of the first quarter.

"We need to work on keeping the ball moving and not having a tendency of holding on to it too long," Black said. "I think that is what got to us. They were pretty quick."

With just over two minutes left in half, the press from the Red Devils forced three straight steals and layups to make it 27-22.

A layup and free throw from Pickering guard Glenn Anderson made it 29-27 as the half came to a close.

"We did the same thing last week when we played against Simpson," Pickering coach Brandon Jordan said. "In the first quarter, we did ourselves a hole and spend the rest of the time digging out of it. Our pressure seemed to work, and we took the lead a couple of times. The first quarter, is the story of the game. We beat them the rest of the game.

"We're not very tall, but I have some athletes."

A 3-pointer from Ahmed Fleming to open the half gave the Red Devils its first lead of the half, but a layup from Marshall Sweet on the next possession gave the lead back the Merryville.

Fleming led Pickering (3-4) with 14 points, and Sweet flirted with a triple-double with 12 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.

"He's pretty strong and has good agility," Black said of Sweet. "His footwork is pretty good. It's a great asset to have a guy of his height. We won't have too many people his size at this level. He still has to come out and play."

The Panthers took a 2-point lead headed into the last quarter, and both teams exchanged baskets throughout the period. Tied at 50 with 2:03 to play, Gage Robberson hit a free throw to give Merryville the lead, and Sweet converted a layup in transition to make a 3-point lead with 20 second remaining.

Pickering's Keddic Cook scored on a layup with 13 seconds to go, and Panthers forward Blaise Duncan hit 1-of-2 free throws with 2 seconds remaining for the game's final points.

Pickering struggled at the line, going 16-for-35 from the charity stripe, something Jordan knows the know they will need to clean up going forward.

"If we make 50 percent of our free throws, we win," Jordan said. "During our P.E. tomorrow, we're going to shoot free throws. When we're not shooting free throws, we're going to be thinking about shooting free throws."