TOM BEAN — It was a victory that both teams wanted for different reasons.
The Sherman Bearcats, after a rough start, have seen their play pick up and the wins fall into place as they push closer to a winning record.
The Tom Bean Tomcats were looking to slay another giant as the Class 2A program was going well above its weight class by hosting a Class 5A squad.
In a game that came down to the final couple of possessions, Sherman was able to avoid the upset bid and take another positive step towards 10-5A play by holding on for a 63-58 victory against Tom Bean in non-district action on Friday night.
“Minus the free throws, that was probably the first complete four-quarter game we’ve played against a good team,” Sherman head coach Jordan Marks said. “We’re still trying out rotations. It’s going to be match-up based. We’ve got four more games to get better before playing Lovejoy on the 11th.”
Mason Gabriel led all scorers with 19 points before a case of mistaken identity led to an ejection midway through the fourth quarter, Braiden Speed added 15 points and Xzavier Roberson and Tazorrian Smith each chipped in six points for Sherman (8-10), which has won six of its last nine.
Bryce Grier scored 18 points to lead Tom Bean (12-3) while Ben Lind added 14 points and Zach Lusk finished with 10 points.
Tom Bean started the week with an eight-point victory against Class 3A state-ranked Van Alstyne and was looking to knock off an even bigger opponent. All but two of the Tomcats’ wins are against 3A or bigger programs and they were looking to add another.
“That’s exactly how to put it when we scheduled the games this week,” Tom Bean head coach Wes Chapman said. “We were on a roll a little bit and wanted to take down the giants, these good, bigger programs in the area.”
Sherman was able to hang on down the stretch despite missing free throws — the Bearcats missed the front end of three one-and-ones and 13 overall at the line. Clinging to a 50-48 lead at the start of the fourth, Elijah Dick hit a three-pointer and Sherman only had one possession the rest of the way that could have seen it trailing.
Smith scored to give the Bearcats a 58-51 lead with 4:26 remaining and then things got heated. D.J. Hester picked up a technical foul that had a chance to turn the tide as Grier made both free throws to cut the deficit to five and the Tomcats had the ball.
But they had trouble getting it inbounds and a scrum for possession near midcourt led to the ejections of Gabriel and Lusk. The problem was the refs had the wrong Bearcat — JJ Goodman should have been punished — and Sherman had to go without its leading scorer.
Cory Welch made two free throws and the Tomcats were down 58-57 with just over three minutes remaining but Smith had a putback a minute later.
Grier and Cody Weems missed threes to tie the game at 60 and twice Sherman kept the door slightly open for the Tomcats to force overtime, the last with 56 seconds on the clock before a Roberson free throw made it a two-possession game.
Gabriel scored 11 points in the third quarter, including three-pointers on three straight trips down the floor. The margin never grew by more than four points because Tom Bean answered each one — first with a Grier three, then a putback by Lind and ending with a three by Welch.
“He’s figuring it out,” Marks said about his junior guard. “He played on JV last year. He was thrown into the fire. He’s very much improved and hope it continues as we get into district and start competing for a the playoffs.”
Grier hit a pair of free throws with 33 seconds left until half-time to give Tom Bean a 31-29 lead at the break. Neither side led by more than five in the second quarter with the Tomcats controlling play early to get that 23-18 margin thanks in part to a three-pointer by Weems.
The Bearcats immediately responded with a 9-2 run that had Speed hit a three to tie the game at 25. Colton West had a lay-up to put Sherman in front before Lusk answered at the other end. Smith had a putback before Lusk hit two free throws to knot things at 29 with minutes left in the half.
Both Lind and Grier each had eight points in the first half while Gabriel’s eight points at that juncture all came in the first quarter and Speed went into the break with nine points.
Sherman led for just five seconds in the first quarter but it was enough for the Bearcats to take an 18-17 advantage into the second quarter. Gabriel connected on a three-pointer after hitting a pair of free throws with just under a minute left in the frame to cap a 7-0 spurt.
Tom Bean had scored the first five points before Sherman got on the board nearly three minutes in and Grier hit a pair of three-pointers around a layin by Speed to give the Tomcats a 15-9 advantage.
Lusk scored underneath as Tom Bean went up 17-11 with two minutes remaining in the quarter but a cold spell the rest of the stanza allowed Sherman to finish with a flourish.
“We like to play fast but against a team that had this much depth, we wanted to slow things down a little,” Chapman said. “That’s the luxury of a bigger school. They had athletes and they all brought something to the team.”