By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
COPPELL — If it is possible for a basketball game with only 44 combined points in 36 minutes to be thrilling, McKinney North and Mansfield Legacy found the secret on Tuesday night in the UIL Class 4A Region II Regional Quarterfinal game at Coppell High School.
Outscoring Mansfield Legacy 5-0 in the fourth quarter and the overtime period combined, the Bulldogs outlasted the Broncos 23-21 in one of the most bizarre playoff games of the postseason. The Bulldogs (23-11) will play No. 8 Dallas Kimball in the Regional Semifinal on Friday night at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland at 6 p.m.
After outscoring the Bulldogs 8-3 in the third quarter, Legacy was leading 21-18 entering the final eight minutes of regulation. It was almost three minutes into the quarter before North junior Jola Otubu drove to the basket and made a tough layup, all while being fouled hard by a Bronco defender. After converting the three-point play with a free throw, the game was tied at 21-all with 5:03 remaining.
And it would remain that way for a while. A very, very long while.
When the Broncos missed a layup in their ensuing possession, Otubu and the Bulldog offense crossed half court and remained stationary on offense as the seconds ticked away on the clock. Every once in a while, players would move around the perimeter. But the Broncos defense did nothing to contest the Bulldogs running the final four minutes off the clock.
Finally, with about 15 seconds remaining, North began to run an offense play. Legacy was quick to foul with about 12 seconds remaining, which gave the Bulldogs head coach Darryll Craft an opportunity to bring junior Colin Curran off the bench and back into the game. After both teams used a timeout, the Broncos fouled Otubu with six seconds remaining in the game, giving the Bulldogs one final play to get a shot off.
Despite getting a decent look at the basket, senior Bryson Brown missed the running jumper at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime with a score of 21-21.
In the overtime period, North won the tipoff and went back into its stall offense. However, the Legacy defense began pressuring the Bulldogs’ passes, forcing the guards to make difficult tosses over the outstretched arms of the Bronco defenders. With 2:07 remaining in overtime, the Bulldogs finally coughed up the ball and the Broncos recovered and took over possession.
Once the Broncos crossed half-court, they began to hold the ball for the final shot as the final minutes slowly ticked off the clock. But as the Legacy offense began to run its final play of the game, Craft said analyzing the scouting report paid off, because he and his players had a good idea of what their final play would be.
“We talked at halftime about how they had shifted everyone over to one side and (were) screening us,” Craft said, “and we had to shift everyone over as well (next to) Colin. And we had talked about it from the scouting report that if it came down to one final play that (Marchie) Murdock was going to take the final shot.”
With about eight seconds left, Curran intercepted a cross-court pass intended for Murdock, and he began taking the ball up the court with only one defender behind him. Despite just making the biggest play of the game, Craft said he was impressed with what Curran first did when he got possession of the ball.
“I’ll tell you Colin is so stinking smart that when he stole the ball, the first thing he did was look at the clock to see how much time there was,” Craft said. “That is just a smart basketball player.”
Curran streaked down the court and went hard to the basket before being fouled on the play, sending him to the line for two shots with five seconds remaining. After a Legacy timeout, Curran sank his first free throw to give the Bulldogs a 22-21 lead. It was the first point scored in nearly nine minutes.
Despite another Legacy timeout, Curran sank his second free throw to give his team a two-point lead. After each team-exchanged timeouts, the Broncos passed the ball inbounds and advanced it pass half-court before taking their final timeout with two seconds left. With the entire crowd at Coppell High School on its feet, Murdock received the inbound pass and shot a contested jumper in the paint that rimmed off and bounced wide, and despite scoring just eight points in the second half and overtime, the Bulldog players celebrated at half-court with a victory.
“I’m too excited right now. I feel like I am in shock,” said Curran, standing outside the team locker room after the game. “It is the best I have ever felt with this team. It is just awesome.”
Curran said that despite the stress that running the “keep-away” offense can bring as players, because of the negative reactions of the crowd, he said he was glad his coach initiated the offense.
“It just kind of happened,” he said. “We were up at one point and they were just really long on defense, so we just waited it out. Great decision by Coach Craft.”
“Like I told the guys in the locker room, we get into a lot of these games because I am really stubborn when it comes to holding the ball and playing what I think is good, fundamental basketball,” said Craft. “I think the more shots Legacy took tonight, the better their chances were to win. We just couldn’t block them out, because they were too big and strong, so when we had a chance to get the ball and play for one in order to win, that is what we were going to do.”
In terms of scoring, junior Julion Pearre led the Bulldogs with eight points while Otubu had six points and Curran finished with five. Junior Kody Wilson added four points as well. Murock led the Broncos with six points.
The game started off at a normal pace, as both teams played their normal offense in the opening quarter. Legacy started off the night on a 9-2 run through the first five minutes, but a Curran three-pointer and a Wilson layup cut the Broncos lead to 9-7. However, a buzzer beating layup by Derrick Hall gave Legacy a four-point lead heading into the second quarter.
The Bulldogs took the lead with 6:20 remaining in the half after Pearre hit a long three, giving North a 13-11 lead. After each team added a basket, the Bulldogs had possession with 2:55 remaining, holding a 15-13 lead. Curran would not attempt his three-pointer until the final seconds of the half, giving the crowd a sneak preview of what was to come in the second half.
Pearre got the third quarter going in a hurry, converting a Bulldog takeaway into a three pointer to build their lead to 18-13. But Legacy would steal a play from the North playbook, finishing the Broncos 8-0 run to end the quarter by holding the ball for the final 90 seconds, before Trey Edwards drew a foul and hit one of two free throws with three seconds remaining.
After the game, Craft reflected on his team’s playoff run and how each game has shown that his team can win with any style of play.
“We are capable of playing all different styles,” said Craft. “We can get up-and-down the floor, slow it down, and we have played both throughout the year. Even though some people might not understand or like that strategy, playing the slow-down style prepares you for nights like this. There is just nothing else you can do when you face a group like that. They are just too big and too strong, so I think our kids were prepared for that and stayed focus. I am just so happy and proud of those kids.”
With Craft celebrating a birthday on Tuesday, he summed up his team’s victory in one simple thought:
“It is the best gift I could have asked for.”
Photos courtesy of Kellie Anfonso. For more photos of this game and other North games, click here.