By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
PARIS – Despite the hour and a half drive to beautiful Paris High School, the McKinney North Bulldogs didn’t forget to pack their A-game.
The Bulldogs blew out the Texarkana Texas High Tigers 66-45 in the UIL Class 4A Region II Bi-district round game on Monday night, advancing to the Area round of the boys basketball playoffs for the second consecutive season. North improved to 21-11 on the season while Texas High finished at 15-14.
“Those guys are bi-district champions for two straight seasons, and that is a pretty good accomplishment if you ask me,” said North coach Darryll Craft, after the game at Paris High School. “We can now look forward to Friday night and taking care of business there. When we play like tonight we are a pretty good basketball team.”
North will face the winner of Lancaster-Jacksonville, which will be played Tuesday night at Eustace, in the Area round on Friday night. Game time and location TBD.
Monday night got off to a good start for the Bulldogs, as back-to-back layups by senior Maliek Golden helped North get off to a 10-3 lead. However, it wasn’t long before the Tigers began testing the Bulldogs’ defensive speed, as Texas High dominated the final minutes of the first quarter with lay-ups and uncontested three-pointers to finish on a 17-2 run.
North began fighting back in the second quarter, as junior Colin Curran hit one of his three three-pointers in the game to shrink the Tigers’ lead to 20-19. After a Texas High timeout, Keilon Bunn hit a long three to extend the Tigers lead back to four with a little over five minutes remaining in the first half.
Two minutes later the Bulldogs would grab the final lead change of the night, as a Bryson Brown lay-up capped off a 7-0 run that gave his team a 26-24 lead. After each team traded points, the Bulldogs held the ball for the final shot of the half holding on to a 29-27 lead. North ran the set play to perfection, as Brown found himself with an open lane down the paint to drive the ball and make an easy layup, giving the Bulldogs a four point lead at halftime.
Despite his 10 points in the first half, Craft said after the game that the Tigers had done a good job of “locking up” on Curran, and that they needed to make an adjustment in the second half to take advantage of the defense.
The adjustments on offense benefitted junior Jola Otubu the most, as the guard made all eight of his points in the third quarter to help extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 14. Similar to the end of the second quarter, North had the final possession of the third quarter with a chance to finish the frame with a score.
After a couple of screens, junior Kody Wilson came wide open along the baseline, caught an easy alley-oop, and slammed it down for a crowd-pleasing dunk that all but sealed the game for the Bulldogs.
“When you look at the end of the second quarter, we are only up by two, and we decide to run a set play for one shot and get two points to end the half,” said Craft. “At the end of the third quarter we are up 12, go for one shot, and get a dunk. That is what we have to do to win.”
With the game well in hand entering the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs continued to play stifling defense to hold the Tigers to just six points in the final frame. After allowing 20 points in the first, North held Texas High to just 25 points in the final three quarters, which Craft said is a product of his player’s effort throughout the entire game.
“Coach (Charlie) Hadley has been with me for five or six years, and one thing he says you can always expect from us is effort,” said Craft. “We may not always win, but we will always show effort. I think that is just something we have instilled in our kids, and they understand that for us to win games and be successful, we have to give maximum effort all the time.”
The Bulldogs’ leading scorer was Curran with 15 points, while Julion Pearre finished in double figures with 10 points. Otubu, Brown, Wilson, and junior Steele Douglas all had eight points. Jamal Ray led Texas High with 10 points.
For a team that loves to shoot the perimeter shot, the Bulldogs made just five three-pointers on the night. Instead, the team shot 85% from the free throw line and had 30 points from inside the paint, despite giving up some size to the Tigers.
“Their coach wasn’t being mean with this, but he told me after the game, ‘You have a real good program down here, but I have to be honest and say you don’t pass the eye test.’ And that is true, because when you look at us we aren’t specimens, but we are pretty good basketball players and the kids do what we ask them to do. I’m just really happy for them,” said Craft.