By: Mike Bruu, TSB Staff
DALLAS – A crowd of almost 1,200 people inside the American Airlines Center on Saturday afternoon witnessed the first high school basketball game in the 11-year history of the downtown Dallas arena.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that they got their money’s worth.
The South Oak Cliff Golden Bears avoided the upset against McKinney High, defeating the Lions 80-75 in the second round UIL playoff game on Saturday afternoon. With the questions surrounding senior guard A.J Moutry’s late-season ankle injury, the pressure of facing the champions of District 11-4A, and faced with the distractions of playing at the home arena of the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, it was safe to say that the Lions had to play their best basketball of the season to extend their season and upset the Golden Bears.
In a game that was full of runs for either team, South Oak Cliff cruised into the fourth quarter ahead 69-56, dominating on the offensive boards and being able to get shots in paint in transition against the Lions. With McKinney at one time in the first half trailing by 18 points, coach Wes Watson knew that his team wouldn’t just lie down and quit.
“I’ve seen them play for a lot of years and a lot of teams when they get down 17 or 18 it turns into 37 or 38,” said Watson. “We just refused to be one of those teams and kept battling. We gave ourselves a chance, gave ourselves an opportunity.”
After a timeout with 6:52 left in the fourth quarter with the Lions trailing 71-59, McKinney stormed out to a 10-1 run in the next four minutes of the game to bring it to a one-possession affair.
After trading free throws back-and-forth, the Golden Bears were at the line to shoot two free throws with 23 seconds left, trying to extend the South Oak Cliff lead to two possessions. Christopher Hyder, the Golden Bears senior guard, made the first attempt but had the second shot rim off and bounce to the baseline. However, MHS senior Tanner Holland mishandled the rebound and the ball went out of bounds, giving the Golden Bears the basketball and a chance to increase the lead again.
With the game now at 77-73, the last real chance for the Lions dissolved after the team’s 19th turnover of the afternoon, this one on Moutry. To the Lions’ credit, they continued to battle and force South Oak Cliff to make free throw shots down the line. But in the end the Lions had too deep of a hole to get out of, something Watson spoke about after the game.
“We had a lot of opportunities in the first half to not let it get to where [the game] got,” Watson said. “We didn’t secure the ball on a couple of rebounds. And we had some careless turnovers in the beginning of the game that put ourselves in a bit of a hole.”
“The game is going to be judged on the entire game, not just the way you played in the second half. Just too much of a hole to dig out of with a team that good.”
The player of the game without question was McKinney’s junior guard Red Shannon, who led both teams with 30 points on the afternoon and really was the sparkplug for the Lions in their comeback efforts in the second half.
“He’s an outstanding competitor,” Watson said of his point guard. “He’s got so much ability and so much potential, and you know he’s such a warrior. You want that from your point guard. I just can’t say enough good things about his effort out there today.”
Outside of the locker room, a very somber disappointed Shannon talked about the effort of his team as a whole and how the Lions beat themselves with careless mistakes down the line. “First, giving honor to God and my teammates because they played good and they helped me get open looks,” Shannon said.
“It was us not taking advantage of opportunities they gave us, and losing the ball and tipping it around and not finishing shots.”
The Lions had two other players in double figures in the ballgame with Moutry finishing with 14 points and junior Raynell Denny tallying 10 in the ballgame. In Moutry’s case, he appeared to suffer a minor setback with the right ankle that he injured earlier in the season against McKinner North and again versus Highland Park. Late in the fourth quarter Moutry hobbled off the court and received attention on the bench before re-entering about a minute later.
Despite the 155 combined points in the ballgame, both teams seemed to struggle shooting at times from long distance. This is not uncommon for players who go from playing at local gyms to suddenly playing in a full-fledged arena with 20,000 seats, because the shooting background is very different and many shooters have to adjust their depth perceptions in order to find a solid rhythm.
Even in defeat, Shannon and the rest of the Lions savored their chance to play at the AAC in their Area round playoff game.
“It meant a lot,” Shannon said. “I mean, we didn’t plan on coming here and playing in it, but it was definitely icing on the cake. But coming in here we didn’t want to really worry about playing here, we just wanted to worry about winning the game. It was nice here. I loved it.”
Watson spoke of the history the Lions will be a part of after Saturday afternoon. “The first two high school teams to play at American Airlines Center, we are part of a trivia question now you know?” he said. “And for it to be an outstanding game on top of that is all the more better.”
McKinney High finished with a 20-12 record in 2011-12, and with Moutry, Holland, and guard Canaan Kelley all graduating this spring, guys like Shannon and Denny have to continue to step up and produce if the Lions want to make it back here next year.
Overall, Shannon personified what you want out of a high school athlete when asked to sum up what he will remember most about the season.
“Just my teammates,” he said. “They competed really hard every game and that’s all you can ask for.”
Photos by Shelby Tauber