GARLAND — A lot can be said about the last two minutes of a basketball game. “It’s the longest part of the game,” or “it all comes down to the final minutes,” and of course “ it’s anyone’s game, until the final two minutes.” All of these are true of the sport in general, but were especially true of McKinney North’s latest playoff game against the Red Oak High Lady Hawks on Friday evening.
Set at Garland’s Naaman Forest High, home of the Rangers, North rallied after being down most of the game to take the lead, and the win, 42-39 in the final two minutes of a Class 4A Area Round do-or-die contest.
As a result, North (25-4) will play Seguin (21-8) in the Region 2 Quarterfinal Round, which is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at The Colony. Seguin, the runner-up in 15-4A, advanced by beating Texas High 63-55 in Friday night’s Area Round and had previously beaten Corsicana 47-35 in the bi-district round.
North made it this far by going a perfect 14-0 in District 13-4A and earning a No. 1 seed, then knocking off Mount Pleasant 65-28 in a bi-district game on Monday. Red Oak, which finished third in District 15, had advanced by blasting Lindale 61-38 on Monday at Mabank.
But despite making plenty of chances for themselves Friday night, the North girls had trouble all game getting points and even more problems keeping the Lady Hawks from getting them.
Trailing 21-19 at halftime and 29-24 going into the fourth quarter, North outscored Red Oak 18-10 over the final eight minutes to pull out the win. Mikaehla Connor led North with 14 points while Chanterria Jackson added 11. Stephanie Jackson scored nine.
The game was plagued with fouls from both sides and the pace of the game directly correlated to who was stepping up to the free throw line. It wasn’t until the fateful two minute mark that the Lady Bulldogs turned it around on Red Oak.
Tensions were high in a game that felt like a repeat of last year’s second round of playoffs where North lost to Red Oak 47-41. The third quarter was especially nerve-wrecking for the Lady Bulldog bench when they couldn’t get a point for nearly half of the quarter. As head coach Michael Oldham said, it was apparent that for one reason or another North was playing timid and that his team would have to turn it around for the win.
“I just kept telling them that at halftime, if we kept playing like we were playing, we’d wear them down by the end,” Oldham said. “You always like to win rematches, but this was an especially great experience for my kids.”
The aggression North showed at the end of the first half was unseen again until the end of the game, but as the two-minute rule usually plays out, that was all the Lady Bulldogs needed. A controversial loose ball just before the three-minute mark gave North all the excitement they needed to push forward. Much to the chagrin of Red Oak’s involved parents, North was given possession and made good use of the call. The Red Oak fans, who were quick to voice their displeasure, were louder than any team North had faced to date, but the Lady Hawks’ family and friends couldn’t win this game for them.
“It’s so distracting having such loud fans yell at you, but you just have to focus,” freshman Stephanie Jackson said. “Focus has been a key aspect for our team all season and we’ll have to continue to do so from here on out. And stay humble.”
And stay humble they did, until the minute after the hand shake that is, where high-pitched screams flooded the court in excitement. It wasn’t until the loose ball call combined with a rough tumble with Red Oak’s Freshman star Lauryn Bowie, that the intensity North has known all season, finally came forward. Refs, trainers, cheerleaders and even police officers all hovered over Bowie as she screamed out in pain, all while fans of the Lady Hawks screamed in anger themselves. North took control of the game soon after the injury, with 2:18 left in the game.
“Just getting down to the fact that we had two minutes to win or lose. If we lost we were out, and I’m a senior, which means I’m done,” Mikaehla Connor said. “Our team leaders took control and said we have to go and if we’re gonna go it has to be this time.”
Frazzled by their teammates’ injury, Red Oak soon began taking fouls including a technical at the two-minute mark by the Lady Hawks’ senior Kajara Mays, which sealed the deal for North’s comeback. Fouls ruled this game, and with the whistle blowing every 5 seconds, the audience found themselves at the edge of their seats for the final moments.
“It’s a revenge feeling because these guys knocked us out of playoffs last year, but the burst of energy we got from the close win is what will drive us next week,” Mays said. “It feels like all of our hard work is finally showing off and this just feels so good to come back after being down the whole game.
Much like the North girls’ ninja-esque headbands would suggest, Red Oak was taken down before they knew what hit them, opening up a spot in the next round of playoffs for the Lady Bulldogs. Oldham and his girls don’t expect to change their formula heading into next week’s game, but he wouldn’t mind a bit more of a cushion to the win.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work until the end of the game,” Oldham said. “But as long it works then, that’s what matters.”
Photos by TSB’s Sawyer Erickson