By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
If you paid for a ticket to the basketball doubleheader inside Bulldog Gym between McKinney North and Wylie on Friday night, you got to see some nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat holiday hoops.
The Bulldog teams swept the girls and boys doubleheader versus their rivals from District 13-4A. The girls team stayed hot in the early portion of the district schedule, improving to 4-0 before the holiday break with a 51-49 victory over the Lady Pirates. For the boys team, a 63-62 victory evens up the district mark at 1-1 after a tough opening loss at Lovejoy.
The evening started off with the girls matchup, as Wylie (2-2) could have moved into a first-place tie with North with a win. The Lady Bulldogs came out and appeared to have checked out for the holiday break, as turnovers and missed shots sent the team into the locker room at halftime down 20-17.
North struggled for most of the third quarter, trailing by as many as nine points. Just when things looked bleak for the blue and orange, North’s Ali Michalak hit two big three-point shots late in the quarter that energized the Lady Bulldog bench and picked up the entire offense. She finished with nine points in the game.
“She is our seventh, eighth man coming in and having her drain those three three-pointers is what you have to have if you want to go to the places we want to go,” said North head girls coach Michael Oldham. “We know that she can hit them; it was just a matter of time when it happened. I’m glad she picked tonight to do it.”
After chipping away at the Wylie lead for a majority of the fourth quarter, Amy Kleynhans made two free throws with 1:25 left in the game to give the Lady Bulldogs a 45-44 lead, their first since leading 17-15 in the second quarter.
The Lady Bulldogs iced the game with four Alexis Mason free throws, part of her 10 points on the night. Despite an incredible half-court shot that bounced off the glass and into the basket for the Lady Pirates, North walked off the court with a huge win over a program that has given them fits over the past couple seasons.
“We were 0-4 versus Wylie the past two years,” said Oldham. “They have all been close games like this one; they have just been able to come out on top. I’m glad that was us tonight.”
Chanterria Jackson led the Lady Bulldogs in scoring with 15 points, while Mikaehla Connor ended the night with 10 points. Colby Davis was the leading scorer with 18 points for the Wylie Lady Pirates.
Despite a quality home victory over a difficult district opponent, Oldham says his team has some basketball plans for the holiday break.
“We have stuff to work on over Christmas break, that’s for sure.”
The Lady Bulldogs will participate in the Sherman Holiday Invitational beginning on Thursday afternoon versus Melissa.
In game two of the doubleheader, the boys team played a brilliant first half of basketball, led by Bryson Brown and his seven first quarter points. He would finish with 13 points in the game.
After knocking down some huge three-pointers and forcing numerous Wylie turnovers in the first 16 minutes of the game, the Bulldogs went into halftime with a 35-25 lead and looked comfortable that they would be able to hold off the Pirates to get back to .500 in district play.
Toward the end of the third quarter, North had built a 14-point lead and had the game under control, when the Pirates began a furious comeback. Led by Myron Varmall and Jacoby Armstrong, Wylie inched its way back into the game and eventually made it a 61-60 game with 25 seconds left in regulation, after Donald Slay knocked down a three-pointer at the top of the key.
North’s Jola Otubu, who led all scorers in the game with 22 points, knocked down two free throws to give the Bulldogs a 63-60 lead with 20 seconds left. When Wylie advanced the ball down the court, the Bulldogs fell into their “junk” defense, which limited the screens Wylie could execute and forced them to have to settle for a lay-up with time running down and no timeouts left.
Varmall made the uncontested lay-up, but with the clock ticking down less than three seconds, head coach Darryll Craft and the North players began to celebrate knowing they had pulled off a huge home win over a scrappy district rival.
“That was gigantic,” said Craft. “I don’t think we could have scripted it any better, except for what happened in the fourth quarter. We just didn’t finish real well there at the end.
“We were trying to run an offense late in the fourth quarter with about two and a half minutes left that wastes some time, but when you turn the ball over or take a bad shot, it puts you in a rough spot. But I don’t care if we win by one or 20, it was just huge to win the game.”
The Bulldogs were outscored 22-14 in the fourth quarter, something that only added to Craft’s belief that this game was never “under control” for his team.
“When you are 0-1 and this is the last district game before Christmas, you don’t feel too in control,” said Craft.
When asked about Otubu’s strong offensive performance, Craft says he was most impressed by his ability to be patient and find different ways to score the basketball.
“For him not to have any points in the first quarter shows me that he was patient,” Craft said. “We talked to him tonight about not just settling for the three but trying to get into the lane and break people down. He came up gigantic tonight.”
The Bulldogs will participate in the Avery Air Invitational next Friday and Saturday, Dec. 28-29, at McKinney Boyd, beginning with a Friday night matchup versus Richardson Pearce. However, if you ask Craft and his coaching staff, their next real game is on Jan. 4 at Greenville.
“The holiday tournament will be great, but I promise you that if we go 3-0 or 0-3, as long as we stay in shape, play well, and get some playing time for some of the guys on the bench, our next game is truly Jan. 4,” said Craft. “If we go 0-3 but win on Jan. 4, I’ll be ok with that.”
SIDE NOTES: Friday night was alumni night at Bulldog Gym, where former players and trainers from past team’s came to be honored at halftime of both contests. Roughly eight or nine girls and 20 boys players showed up to the event to hear their names called over the P.A. once again.