Fool me once … well, that was more than enough.
Before his team hosted Lewisville in Region 4-AA play Friday night, North Central boys’ basketball coach Kerry Hayes was sitting in an office watching video from the Knights’ 66-50 loss at Lee Central three nights earlier. Shaking his head, Hayes pointed out was the NBA length of most off the Stallions’ nine successful 3-point shots.
Lewisville, obviously, either had a copy of that film or, by word of mouth, heard how Lee Central hurt the Knights from long range and came out firing up 3-point jumpers, knocking down three in the first three and a half minutes to jump out to a 13-8 lead.
Not wanting to see a repeat performance from Tuesday, Hayes extended his team’s 2-3 zone to the 3-point arc and beyond, laying the groundwork for a 52-45 Region 4-AA victory in a pairing pitting two teams which came into the night tied for second behind Lee Central in the seven-team circuit with 3-1 records in league play.
After the game, Hayes said he was bound and determined not to let the 3-point shot be his team’s downfall, especially on their home court inside The Castle.
“I don’t know why,” he said, “but it seems like whenever we play a team, they get hot from beyond the 3-point line. (Lewisville) was coming out past the 3-point line and came out hitting their shots. Our guys did a good job of going out there, putting pressure on the ball after they made a couple and not letting them get good looks at the basket.”
Their defensive issues addressed, the Knights finally started taking control of this game in the final four minutes of the third quarter and the opening six minutes of the final stanza, using a 15-3 run to turn a 37-35 lead into a 52-38 advantage with 2:14 left to play following the second of two straight Markell Portee drives. Portee, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, led all scorers with 18 points with 13 of those coming in the final 12 minutes of the contest.
Using a mix of the long ball, the inside game and the free throw line, the guests went on an 8-4 start to the second half to go on top, 35-33, with a pair of free throws from center Braxton Elms, who accounted for five of those points while Maurice Grant, who led the Lions with 16 points, lent a 3-ball to the rally. NC, which led 29-27, at halftime, received a five-foot baseline floater from Jamel Jones and a Jones stickback to close the gap to 35-33 with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
From there, it was all Portee as he scored the final nine points of the stanza starting with a fast break layin to knot things with 3:42 left. He then --- in order --- scored on a putback, a 3-point dart and putting his defender on his right hip, drove the lane for a pair with 12 ticks left in third quarter clock as the hosts carried a 42-35 advantage into the fourth quarter.
The Knights extended their advantage to double digits in the first three minutes of the final stanza. Tyrek Jenkins kicked things off by gaining control of a loose ball and laying it home for an easy pair. Zy Dunham then got into the scoring mix by taking a feed from Portee and scoring from point-blank range before making it a 48-36 game when he took a pass from Portee --- following a Jenkins steal --- for a layup with 5:04 to play.
A pair of Portee baskets answered a JadaKiss Talford putback as the NC advantage grew to 52-38 with 2:4 left in the contest. LHS closed the gap to the final seven-point spread after Elms, who was held to six second half points, connected from distance with 56 seconds to play.
The Knights looked like a different team than the one which showed up to meet Lee Central, a game which came after an 18-day layoff. Hayes said it was not hard to see that his squad had a hop in their collective step on Friday but cautioned they are still not where they need to be conditioning-wise.
“We didn’t come out flat tonight. We came out full of energy,” he said. “Our guys are slowly getting into shape but in that fourth quarter, you could still see that we were wearing down a little bit. We have to do a better job of getting our guys ready.”
It was the Lions, though, who looked like the fresher team starting out on Friday, getting five points from Elms to start the game before treys from Jalen Clyburn and Jayon Talford helped the guests to a 13-8 lead. The Knights used baskets from Jenkins and guard Avante’ Reynolds to narrow the gap to 13-12 only to see Grant get a steal and slam to close the first quarter scoring.
While the dunk gave the LHS bench and fans something to cheer about, at least, it only counted for two points and came from inside the arc.
“We extended our zone out, then we went to man-to-man a couple times. We mixed it up,” Hayes said of the shift in his team’s defensive philosophy. ”Once they got behind, they tried to penetrate and get the ball down low against us.”
NC took the lead for keeps in scoring the first nine points of the second quarter, starting with a pair of free throws from both Tyler Faulkenberry and Reynolds to go on top, 16-15. Reynolds then hit a 10-foot jumper before Faulkenberry stepped outside the arc to sink a trey for a 21-15 lead at the six minute mark of the second quarter.
The Knights’ lead stayed at five points on two occasions, the second of those coming when Faulkenberry answered Talford’s fadeaway jumper with a 15-foot strike from the right side of the basket to make it a 29-24 NC advantage with 25 seconds left before halftime. LHS trimmed the deficit to 29-24 at intermission with Talford hitting a jumper from the free throw line before an Elms free throw with 2.4 ticks left in the clock made it a two-point game at the midway marker.
“I told our guys that we had to go out and get after it,” Hayes said of his halftime talk. “There were a couple times where we had the opportunity to push the lead but we didn’t. We couldn’t come out in the third quarter and, like we have done this year, have a slump. We had to come out and continue to play hard.”
Hayes said he knew that Grant, Talford and Demetric Hardin were the heart and soul of the Lions’ offense. They combined for 28 points with Hardin only contributing two foul shots to the cause. Holding that trio in check, said the NC boss, was huge.
“(Grant) is a great player,” Hayes said. “We just extended our defense on them and we kind of wore them down at the end.”
LHS (45): Maurice Grant 5 3-6 16, Jalen Clyburn 1 0-0 3, Jayon Talford 2 0-1 6, JadaKiss Talford 4 2-3 10, Braxton Elms 1 3-5 5, Jashawn Jason 1 1-1 3, Demetric Hardin 0 2-2 2. Totals: 14 11-18 45
NC (52): Jamel Jones 3 1-2 7, Markell Portee 8 1-5 18, Zy Dunham 2 0-0 6, Tyrek Jenkins 3 0-2 6, Avante’ Reynolds 3 2-2 8, Tyler Faulkenberry 2 2-3 7. Totals: 22 6-14 52
Score by quarters: First: LHS, 15-12; Halftime: NC, 29-27; Third: NC, 42-35; Three-point goals: LHS 6 (Grant 3, Talford 2, Clyburn), NC 2 (Portee, Faulkenberry)