WHITEWRIGHT — The early part of the season was a bit of a roller coaster for Leonard. Almost the entirety of last year’s roster graduated and the first few months were needed to find the right fit for all the new faces.
“We lost nine of 10 guys. We’re still young in basketball years,” Leonard head coach Luke McCarley said. “I think we grew up tonight.”
After holding Whitewright to one basket in the third quarter and getting 20 points from Byron Bolin, Leonard was able to hold on for a 43-37 victory in District 10-3A action on Friday night.
Someone was going to get that first district victory and Leonard did it by limiting Whitewright (6-13, 0-3) to 10 points in the second half.
“Coming in we changed things up defensively,” McCarley said. “If we could slow down their three-point shooters, we’d have a chance. That goes to our help defense.”
Whitewright had five players score with Seth Jackson leading the way at 10 points. Jordan Meixelsperger added nine points and Austin Jones chipped in eight.
A late surge by Whitewright left the game in doubt until the final minute. Bolin scored a pair of baskets to give Leonard a 39-30 lead with five and a half minutes remaining. But Leonard went nearly all of that time scoreless and Whitewright trimmed the deficit to one possession.
Jackson scored twice underneath and then Jones hit a corner three-pointer with 2:14 left to make it 39-37. Will Stephens forced a jump ball on Leonard’s ensuing possession with 1:18 on the clock but Chance Sanderson had a steal and scored.
Jones missed a three from the top of the key but Whitewright was still alive after Seth Lewis missed the front end of a one-and-one situation at the free-throw line with 32 seconds left.
This time Issac Nolen came up with the steal and Lewis scored as Leonard put the win away.
Bolin was the only Leonard player in double figures. Nolen, Lewis and Jaylen Duncan finished with five points apiece.
“We had a very tough loss on Tuesday and our message all week was to come together and fight together,” McCarley said.
Leonard trailed, 27-23, at half-time but turned that into a five-point lead by the end of the third quarter. Bolin scored eight points while Ronnie Hart and Jackson Anderson had lay-ups during the frame.
Jones’ three-pointer with 3:28 left in the third was the only scoring by Whitewright and it was the only points the home team scoring during the first 13 minutes of the second half.
Whitewright took the lead for the rest of the second quarter in the middle of the stanza when Meixelsperger scored underneath and then sandwiched a pair of three-pointers around a Nolen lay-up. Leonard managed just two baskets in the second quarter before Duncan converted a three-point play with 22 seconds left to send Leonard to the locker room down by just four.
The teams played a back-and-forth first quarter. Lewis and Nolen hit threes for Leonard while Marcus Reeves and Dylan Pitt connected from long-range for Whitewright. Leonard held a 16-15 advantage after the opening eight minutes.
“In this district, it may be the toughest district in the region, maybe in all of 3A. It can be so wide open,” McCarley said. “Our goal is to chip away one game at a time.”