WHITEWRIGHT — It happened in the span of three minutes, fresh out of the locker room, and was just long enough to turn the tide for the Van Alstyne Panthers.
While they controlled the tempo through the first half, the scoreboard showed they were not that far ahead of the Whitewright Tigers. It was an eight-point margin, on the road in a game which would have an impact on the early shape of the District 10-3A race.
Van Alstyne had already played a game of significant consequence earlier in the week, losing to Bonham on a three-pointer at the buzzer. Now it was in a match-up where the winner would move into a tie with Leonard for second place behind the Warriors and the loser dropping to fourth.
“They bounced back. I was proud of them. We’re coaches. We’re concerned about everything,” Van Alstyne head coach Russell Best said. “I still don’t think we’ve played our best basketball. I feel like we’re about to take a good step forward.”
It started with a three-pointer, continued with another and then was finished by a basket off an inbounds play. When it began Van Alstyne could feel threatened. When it ended the lead had ballooned to 17 points on the way to eventually cresting at 22.
“They had a couple turnovers there and we sank shots,” Best said. “First couple possessions we were able to score on them.”
The deciding run proved to be the difference in the Panthers’ 73-61 victory over Whitewright in district action on Friday night.
“It’s hard to keep that pace they like to play at,” Whitewright head coach Jansen Trotter said. “They kept it one more quarter than we did.”
Samuel Tormos scored 24 points, Tyler Sperry added 20 points, Drelin Davis chipped in seven points and J.J. Boling finished with six points for Van Alstyne (12-12, 3-1).
Jordan Meixelsperger had 18 points, Dylan Cordell added 15 points and Seth Jackson contributed 12 points for Whitewright (16-8, 2-2), which hosts Howe — one of the two teams right behind the Tigers in the standings — on Tuesday night.
Tormos kicked off the third quarter with a three-pointer in front of his own bench and Davis followed with free throws as the lead began to grow.
Meixelsperger and Jayson Beckett traded threes before Tommy Leutwyler and Tormos hit shots that capped the run which turned an eight-point margin into a 52-35 advantage.
“They hit some more threes than I thought they would. We’ve got to get better on defense,” Trotter said. “I think when Seth went out with three fouls and we had to sit him in the third quarter, that took the wind out of our sails. He’s such a big part of what we do.”
Whitewright found itself down by 18 at the end of the third as its only points in the final four minutes of the quarter were a three-point play by Meixelsperger and a three-pointer at the buzzer from Marcus Reeves to make it 61-43.
Whitewright was able to claw its way back into the contest with just under three minutes remaining. A 7-0 run, capped by Meixelsperger, put the Tigers down by 12 at that point. The Panthers were able to weather the comeback bid as Whitewright never got closer the rest of the way.
Sperry led the charge in the early stages of the second quarter. The Tigers saw Austin Jones bank in a three from the left wing and Jackson converted underneath as the deficit was down to three points.
But Tormos found Sperry twice for three-pointers on consecutive possessions and Tormos followed with free throws as Van Alstyne quickly was back in front by 11.
The Panthers kept the advantage hovering around double digits but couldn’t extend it very far. It spiked at 14 points on Austin Moore’s three-pointer from the right wing. Whitewright then closed the half on a 9-2 spurt.
Aaron Pitt nailed a three to kick off the run while Jackson had a basket and free throws around a pair from the line by Meixelsperger.
Davis hit a free throw with 0.7 seconds on the clock to send Van Alstyne into the break with a 40-32 lead.
Both teams got off to a slow start with Van Alstyne holding a 7-2 lead midway through the first quarter. The Panthers pushed the advantage to 11-2 before Whitewright started chipping away. Cordell sandwiched a three-pointer and a free throw around a Tormos layin and then Kylan Watson made two free throws to cut the margin to 13-9 before Tormos converted on a drive with two seconds left in the frame.