VAN ALSTYNE — Melissa’s Cardinals dropped their season-opener, 66-45, at Van Alstyne on Tuesday, Nov. 29, in a game that got away from the Cards in a lop-sided third quarter. The contest revealed a Melissa team that still had some not-unexpected gelling to do, with its relatively late start to the season and a new head coach. Eric Benton, in his first year at the Cards’ helm, remained upbeat and looked to the future after his team’s inaugural outing.

“What I feel good about,” he said, “is I thought we had flashes of what I think we can be down the road. And that’s what we talked about in (the locker room). That did not go the way that any of us would want it to go. But we talked about, ‘Today is Nov. 29. We’re focused on Dec. 29 and Jan. 29 and, hopefully, Feb. 29.’ We’ve got to see the big picture. What tonight did in my mind, it exposed plenty of things that we’ve got to be better at, but it also gave us an opportunity to go play a game and compete against a really good, talented, well-coached basketball team. That’s only going to make us better for those games that matter later in the year.”

The Panthers (1-2) pulled away late in the second quarter and led, 28-19, at the break. Things quickly got worse for the Cards after the whistle blew to herald the second half, as layups from a trio of Panthers and a three-point dagger by Noah Boling pushed Van Alstyne’s margin to 37-19. Two free throws by Hunter Campbell ended the Panthers’ 9-0 run, but they were Cardinals’ only points of the quarter. After three stanzas, Van Alstyne led, 45-21.

Melissa’s first field goal of the second half came with 6:06 left to play on a sophomore Matt Holloway steal and coast-to-coast layup. The Cards would take the fourth quarter, 24-21, as Van Alstyne subbed in new players, but it was too late. Kennedy Lewis and Holloway each tallied 9 points to lead Melissa scorers this night. Van Alstyne’s top scorers included Boling, with 22 points, and Tyler Sperry, with 15.

Melissa battled early, leading momentarily, 6-5, after two ties. When Van Alstyne eased out to a 13-6 lead on a Mason Adams layup, the Cards responded with freshman Kaedric Cobbs’ short jumper and turnaround one-hander by Campbell to draw Melissa to within 14-11. A sophomore Kennedy Lewis put-back cut the Panthers’ lead to 15-13 but the Cards would get no closer. Van Alstyne soon found its groove with back-to-back layups by Landon Pardee and Sperry to push the margin to 25-17.

Benton said he’s enjoyed finally getting his team together and into a real-game situation.

“It’s been really fun to get to know some of the guys that came from football, better than I already did,” he said. “It’s been fun to kind of play that game and see how the puzzle pieces are going to fit. It’s also been quite a whirlwind, to be honest. That’s one of the things that we actually talked about before the game. We’ve really had limited practice time together, with the holiday and some of that stuff, a lot of kind of teaching on the fly — which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just the situation that we find ourselves in.”

He called the game a positive growing experience.

“I think if we’ll take tonight and stay focused on the process, we’ll be able to look back and say it really helped us in the big picture,” he said.