LEONARD — The Howe Bulldogs pride themselves on being a defensive-minded team. In one of their biggest games of the season, they delivered.
The Bulldogs held off multiple runs from Leonard and closed the game with a 6-0 in the final 1:43 to hold on for a 51-45 win against the Tigers in a pivotal District 10-3A match-up for both teams.
The win locked Howe (13-10, 7-4) into the No. 3 seed for the playoffs and put Leonard in a tough wait-and-see position for their playoff hopes. Their regular season is over for the Tigers since they have the district bye on Tuesday night and they will now wait and see what Whitewright does to determine their fate.
A Whitewright loss against Farmersville on Tuesday would give Leonard the final playoff spot while a win by Whitewright would set up a play-in game for the fourth and final playoff spot.
“We’ve talked about perseverance all year and that’s what we did tonight,” Bulldogs head coach Eric Johns said. “We did a great job in the last minute taking care of the ball, making free throws and preventing them from scoring. The kids showed a lot of fortitude and toughness.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the first quarter as they made just six field goals combined in the opening eight minutes. Howe held Leonard scoreless until midway through the quarter and found themselves with a one point advantage.
As they would all night, Leonard punched back and found themselves in front early in the second quarter thanks in part to senior forward Byron Bolin. Just as he was getting into rhythm, however, Bolin picked up his third personal foul three minutes into the second quarter and sat for the rest of the half.
Howe took advantage and closed the half with a 6-0 run to give the Bulldogs a 25-19 lead at half-time.
The third quarter was a showcase for both Bolin and Howe senior guard Winston Mosse. Bolin chipped in half of his 20 points in the third quarter while Mosse scored 13 of his team-high 18 points in the second half.
The big showing was timely given that leading scorer Ty Harvey also found himself in foul trouble in the second half even as Mosse admitted it was one of his best performances in some time. Harvey with 12 points on the night.
“We had some issues getting into foul trouble but the best thing about this team is we all depend on each other,” Mosse said. “We were playing for something and I just went out to try and get it.”
His strong performance also fueled the rest of his team.
“Winston has a motor that never stops,” Johns said. “He gives 100 percent all the time but he’s struggled offensively recently. He just has something internally that does not allow him to stop. Those shots started falling and he had a great game.”
The Bulldogs had to fight off multiple charges from Leonard in the final frame, thanks to Bolin and guard Isaac Nolen, who scored 13 points off the bench for the Tigers and helped propel a 45-45 deadlock with 1:43 left.
That’s when the Bulldogs defense stepped up and closed the door on the Tigers comeback hopes, thanks in part by a steal from with less than a minute remaining and the Bulldogs up three and send them to the free throw line. Howe finished 18-of-23 from the free throw line Friday night, including six-of-eight in the fourth quarter to ice the game away.