MELISSA — After nearly three-and-a-half quarters of nip-and-tuck, up-and-down-the-court action at Melissa High School on Tuesday, Nov. 28, the Van Alstyne Panthers finally took separation and claimed victory in the Cardinals’ season-opener, 76-63.

Guards Noah Boling and Samuel Tomos teamed-up for a game-high 29 points each to lead Van Alstyne this night. For Melissa, newcomer Mark Fisher led the way with 20 points — including a game-high four treys — followed by 19 points from veteran guard Matt Holloway and 14 from veteran forward Josh Wood. Wood also pulled down a team-high 14 boards.

Not until the fourth stanza did either team attain more than a five-point lead. It was a Boling 3 from the right side that punched the Panthers’ advantage to six, at 61-55, with 5:30 left to play. From there, Van Alstyne (3-1) dominated, 15-8.

What made the late difference?

“We got some run-outs and a couple of easy buckets there,” Van Alstyne head coach Russell Best said. “And I think (Melissa) got a little bit tired. We were able to play a few more bodies because they still have some in football. The kids just played hard, made shots there at the end and made free throws down the stretch. … I thought we competed and played together. That’s all you can ask, every game.”

Melissa head coach Eric Benton, still without key players, was able to give several freshmen and sophomores big minutes in the opener.

“The thing that I liked the best was just the experience that we got for all eight guys that we ran out there tonight. That’s kind of what we talked about before the game. Whether you’re Matt or Josh — who’ve been through the fire on varsity before — or if you’re some of those freshmen and a couple of sophomores that we ran out there, all of that experience was awesome. And I thought Dylan (Fortenberry) and Daxx (Dunnahoe), the two freshmen, held their own and did some really good things.

“The speed of the game was really good for us because we want to play fast, especially once we have everyone we’re going to get. We can’t simulate in practice just how fast that was. … It’s good to get a game under our belt and good for some of those young kids to realize just how fast and physical it can be. We ran some guys out there for major minutes that were playing eighth-grade basketball this time last year. They just went out and held their own in a varsity basketball game.”

Melissa led after one quarter, 19-14, but the Panthers held a 40-36 advantage by halftime. Through three quarters, the score was knotted 10 times.

The Cards’ first points of the season came in the game’s opening seconds when Wood grabbed a steal and went coast-to-coast for a layup. Van Alstyne soon responded to lead, 9-5, after a Boling 3 and CJ Leutwyler’s jumper off a steal. Identical back-to-back driving layups from the left side by Holloway tied the score at 9-9.

Knotted at 14 as the quarter wound down, Holloway sank one from way downtown then popped a spinning jumper in the lane to give Melissa a five-point edge.

In the second period, the Panthers clawed back to tie it at 19 on Boling’s steal and layup. Eight lead changes would follow as the teams traded punches before the break. A trey from Fisher put Melissa up, 24-23, followed by Teo Orduna’s 3 for VA. When the Panthers moved ahead by three, 29-26, Fisher struck again – this time with consecutive 3-pointers.

Down, 36-35, Van Alstyne crept back on top on Leutwyler’s layup and a Boling-to-Tomos alley-oop hook-up. Boling’s free throw ended first-half scoring.

It was more of the same in the third as Melissa quickly regained the lead, 43-40, on two Wood layups and Avery Fuller’s jumper plus one from the line. Melissa led by four, 47-43, midway through the period after a Holloway jumper in the lane but the Panthers bounced back to tie at 49 on Boling’s bucket off a steal and a Kobe Hunter layup.

The Cards went up by three again on Holloway’s layup-plus-one, but after a Tomos layup his 3 from left of the top of the key gave the Panthers a 54-52 lead as the quarter expired.

In the fourth, Van Alstyne never trailed. Melissa stayed within three at 58-53 on an Ezra Monroe free throw, but then came Boling’s 3 for the game’s first six-point margin.

The Cards cut the lead to five, 68-63, on a Wood put-back bucket off a missed free throw, but the Panthers answered with a driving layup from Boling followed by Tomos’ steal and easy layup with under a minute left. Boling sank four-straight from the charity stripe to close out the scoring.

Next up for both teams is the Sanger Tournament from Nov. 30-Dec. 2.