BUCKLEY — Frankfort had a recipe for taking down reigning Northwest Conference champion Buckley Thursday night.
The Panthers put the Bears in the oven at 450 degrees and cooked them to absolute perfection over the course of four quarters in a 69-53 triumph on Buckley's home court.
"This was a huge win," Frankfort senior guard Jaylon Rogers said. "This is one of the biggest wins of my career. Going forward, this gives us a lot of confidence knowing that we beat the best team — supposedly the best team — in our conference."
Rogers scored a combined seven points in the two losses to Buckley last season. He nearly tripled that in Thursday's contest with a game-high 20 points.
"The mindset coming in was just, 'No fear,'" Rogers said. "We've been playing these guys for years and coming up short every single year. But this year is different. We've got a group of seniors, and we come in with no fear. We know we can beat 'em. We know we've got them player for player. We're better than them."
The game was not too pretty early on, resulting in an 11-9 Buckley lead after the first. Rogers came out in the second and hit a big three to ignite the Panthers, but the Bears stayed right with Frankfort and trailed just 29-28 at the half.
The Bears struck first in the second half when Denver Cade hit a long two, but the Panthers went on to outscore them 18-6 over the final seven minutes. Six of those 18 came on two enormous 3-pointers by Matt Loney to put an early nail in Buckley's coffin.
"We're feeling on top of the world, right now," Loney said. "This has been a rivalry ever since we were in seventh, eighth grade. They always used to beat us. They always had our number. I'm just happy we got to beat them."
Frankfort ran away with the game in the fourth quarter. The Bears looked gassed and allowed the Panthers some easy buckets, including three mostly uncontested layups by Griffin Kelly in the waning minutes. Kelly finished with 14 points. Loney had 17, and Mack Powell had 10.
"Everybody stepped up," Loney said. "I couldn't be more proud of my team. Everybody gave 110 percent. Nobody took a single play off. If we would've, that score wouldn't be the way it is right now."
The Panthers (6-0, 4-0 NWC) returned the favor and broke Buckley's 19-game win streak in the conference a year after the Bears (3-3, 3-1) snapped Frankfort's 26-game run and 28 at home.
"We had a lot of motivation coming into this game, and that was part of it," Loney said. "Them snapping our home streak. Them beating us twice last year by more than 10 points. I just feel like we've been under the radar lately and not getting the respect we deserve. We wanted to come out here and make a statement."
And a big statement it was. Head coach Reggie Manville echoed Loney's statement about Frankfort being the forgotten child in the Northwest to Buckley and Glen Lake.
"They were playing tough, but I don't think they were respecting us," Manville said. "They kicked our butt twice last year. Let's face it. But they forgot that Frankfort basketball has been here longer than a couple of years."
Frankfort's defense took it hard to Buckley and forced them into uncomfortable shots. Even when the Bears had open opportunities, they often failed to convert. Cade had a team-high 17 with Joey Weber not far behind with 15. Ridge Beeman had 10, and the high-scoring Austin Harris was held to just nine.
"Our defense definitely beat them," Rogers said. "Mack Powell was huge. He stepped up and guarded Austin Harris. Matt Loney was guarding Denver Cade the whole entire game. We locked those two down and let the role players work — and they couldn't get it done."
The Bears headed straight for the locker room after the loss. Harris said it was difficult to be in the unfamiliar territory of losing on their home court.
"It kind of stings, especially when you hear that buzzer sound and see them go crazy like they won at the Breslin," Harris said. "Hopefully we learn from this. Don't pout. Don't cry about it. Use it as fuel to get back in it. We've still got another crack at 'em, and I believe we'll have another crack at 'em in the regionals."
Harris also knows the rest of 2018 is going to be vastly different than 2017.
"I'm not concerned," Harris said. "I believe in my team. We've hit a rough patch, but we knew this season was going to be different than last year. Last year, we were chasing something. This year, everybody's coming for us."
The Bears marked a huge conference win on Tuesday when they took down Glen Lake, but Buckley head coach Blair Moss was worried heading into Thursday.
"We got high, and then you dip," Moss said. "Frankfort was sky high, and we couldn't match that intensity. I was concerned about that, and it showed. We need to figure it out real fast. A lot of it is between the ears, and I question their being hungry."
Right now, the Northwest Conference is in the hands of the Panthers. Rogers said his team has no intention of letting it go.
"If we keep up that effort and that focus every game," Rogers said, "nobody can beat us."