By: Mike Bruu, TSB Staff
GARLAND – It’s often said a basketball game is won or lost in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for McKinney North, Friday night was an example of what can happen if those final eight minutes don’t quite go your way.
The Bulldogs’ boys team came up short against the 12-4A champion Woodrow Wilson 54-40 in front of a boisterous Area Round playoff crowd fully equipped with a drum line and a radio broadcast crew. From the opening introductions you could tell immediately the distinct size advantage that the Wildcats possessed over the Bulldogs, a key factor in why many experts wrote off McKinney North before the game had even been played days ago.
But true to the Bulldog way under Coach Darryll Craft, North came out with a very solid game plan defensively to try and keep the Wildcats out of the paint and around the perimeter inside the Garland Naaman Forest gymnasium. Trying to stretch the court as far as they could, the Bulldogs played an aggressive 2-3 zone that rattled Woodrow Wilson in the first quarter, limiting them to trying to earn their points by getting to the free throw line.
In the second quarter, trailing 26-20, Craft told his players in the huddle that their goal was to stay around this margin going into halftime and be in the best position to start the third quarter.
“I think the last minute and a half of the second quarter, they are up six and I told our kids at a timeout, ‘Let’s stay right around six. Let’s get it to six or four,’ ” Craft said.
However, two costly turnovers against the Bulldogs and one electric slam dunk by Wildcat junior Zachary Coleman led North into the locker room at the break trailing by 10 with the momentum heavily on Woodrow Wilson’s side. In fact, North turned the ball over 13 times in the half, while the Wildcats only gave it up 4 times.
The only quarter the Bulldogs outscored Woodrow Wilson in was the third, where they outscored their opponent 13-10.
“We mad a good run in the third quarter,” Craft said after the game. Sophomore Julion Pearre led the Bulldogs in scoring with 7 points in the third quarter, adding to team-high 16 points he would tally up on the evening.
Unfortunately North was still unable to keep the Wildcats off the offensive boards in the quarter, continually being beaten by the height advantage they had against the Bulldogs down low.
“We are down 10 at halftime and I know that there were four possessions back-to-back-to-back-to-back that they didn’t score off their first initial shot, but they scored off of a rebound or a put back and even one time by a three in the corner on us,” Craft said. “We knew that was going to be the thing that we had to do a really good job to give us a chance.”
Trailing 40-33, McKinney North had to put together its best eight minutes of the season if they wanted to upset Woodrow Wilson. Instead the Bulldogs began getting exposed by the Wildcats’ advantage in quickness and size on the court, forcing North to have to go to an unconventional method to even give his kids a fighting chance late in the game.
“They spread you out,” Craft said. “They are quicker than us. They’re more athletic than us. We couldn’t play them man-to-man. Then [in the fourth] we didn’t have any team fouls, so I started putting in kids who don’t have any fouls.”
Woodrow Wilson finished the quarter simply spreading out their offense and forcing the Bulldogs to either come up or foul the man with the ball or watch, as they stand with the ball at half-court while time ticked away. In the end, Craft had a chance to empty his bench and allow his starters, and especially his senior class, to leave the game to a standing ovation from the very proud parent section in the McKinney North stands.
After the game Craft commended his team on the year they had and to feel proud for how they performed. “I thought our kids played outstanding,” he said. “I thought they had a great year. Like I told our kids I am proud of them. Not happy because we never want to lose but I thought what our kids were able to accomplish this year and go two rounds deep in the Area round. They have nothing to hold their heads on.”
Jola Otubu, the sophomore guard for McKinney North, was the only other Bulldog in double-figures Friday night, finishing with 12 points. He even got the attention of his head coach when asked about the future of the program.
“Jola played pretty well, didn’t he?” Craft said. “That little sucker is pretty good.”
Despite basketball season being over for the 19 boys who suited up for McKinney North Friday night, it’s hard to believe that a team predicted before the season to finish fifth or sixth in the district just to clinch the third seed and make it to the second round of playoffs would feel anything less than pride when looking back at the 2011-12 season.
And while it may take several weeks or even months, Craft said it best about the opportunity that those boys played themselves into the past five months.
“Like I told the kids before the game, 64 teams are going to be playing this weekend in the state of Texas in 4A basketball,” he said, “and you were one of them.”
“That is pretty special.”