There can be no better subplot for a rivalry like Sherman and Denison than the one that the boys basketball teams face tonight.
The Bearcats not only have a chance to clinch the fourth and final playoff berth with a victory over the Yellow Jackets, it is a game where Denison must win if it wants to keep its playoff hopes alive by forcing an eventual tie with Sherman when the regular season ends next week.
And after the Jackets nearly pulled off a stunning comeback in the last meeting, the stakes in the rematch didn’t have to ramped up the intensity.
The final piece to the playoff puzzle might get put into place or the suspense might be kept for another night as Sherman (16-13, 5-4) travels to Denison (10-19, 3-7) at 7:30 p.m. for District 5-5A action.
“The last few years it hasn’t had an impact in the standings. It’s been playing to play,” Denison head coach Chet Byerly said. “You can expect Sherman-Denison to be a battle. They’re going to step up and we have to be ready to battle.”
When the two teams met last month, Sherman raced to the lead and held a 16-point advantage with 2:42 remaining. What looked like an easy road to the program’s sixth straight win in the rivalry ended up being an 86-79 Bearcat victory after Denison scored 14 straight points and had the chance to tie the game on a three-pointer with a minute remaining.
Jaylyn Cleamons finished with 29 points and six rebounds to lead Sherman while Blaise Bentsen had 18 points and 19 rebounds, Norvell finished with 13 points, eight assists and five rebounds and Rayvon Hester and Kemonte Dowdy each finished with 10 points. Hester added eight assists and Dowdy totaled four steals.
Mykel Anderson led the Jackets with 34 points and Tarrence Gaines scored 18 points for Denison.
“We have to obviously play well. Sherman’s got some good talent,” Byerly said. “We’re going to have to shoot well and limit turnovers. They murdered us on the boards last time.”
Sherman is coming off a 68-59 victory against Wichita Falls. Jeremy Norvell had 16 points, five rebounds and three assists, Kemonte Dowdy scored 15 points, Jaylyn Cleamons totaled 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists, Blaise Bentsen finished with 12 points and seven rebounds and Rayvon Hester scored nine points.
Denison has a chance at the playoffs but it does not control its fate. The Jackets have to beat Sherman tonight and win at last-place Wichita Falls on Friday to close out the year because they received the district bye on the last night of the season. If the Jackets can get to 5-7, they need Sherman to lose out, starting against Denison and then to co-district leader Wichita Falls Rider and at third-place Denton. Depending on Denton Braswell, which could also finish 5-7, then a winner-take-all contest for the final postseason spot would be in the offing.
“We’re not trying to look ahead to anything because we have to take care business with this first, otherwise it won’t matter, Byerly said. “It’s definitely a big one. Wichita Falls is playing better but I like the way it’s setting up. Sherman has a tougher schedule the rest of the way.”
The Jackets lost against district co-leader Denton Ryan, 101-57, on Friday night. Pierce Barker made five three-pointers and scored 21 points, Mykel Anderson added 13 points while Nate Uber and Hagen Byerly finished with eight points apiece.
But those types of outcomes have been fewer than recent seasons.
“This is a group that spend a lot of time in the gym this summer. That’s showing,” Byerly said. “There’s several kids that have taken thousands of shots and gotten better and that’s all you can ask for.”