The last two times the Denison Yellow Jackets won playoff games they were a lower seed, so this task is not anything new.
What is new for the program is how long it has been since Denison has taken the court for a postseason contest.
The eight-year drought has come to an end for the Yellow Jackets, and that alone is a big step. But Denison (8-20) is looking to stick around for a little bit as it takes on Frisco Lone Star (22-10) in a Class 5A Region II bi-district match-up at 7 p.m. on Monday at Anna.
“We’ve set a standard. Win or lose we got in the tournament,” first-year Denison head coach Dale Rhodes said. “That’s a big step. We wanted to change the culture and attitude. They can see that’s an attainable goal. Let’s work and do it again.”
The winner will face either Woodrow Wilson or South Oak Cliff in the area round later this week.
The Jackets earned their spot in the bracket with a fourth-place finish in District 10-5A. It took back-to-back wins to earn the berth; first with a 61-58 road victory on a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Tarrence Gaines over Wylie East before defending the home court with a 63-47 win against rival Sherman which avenged a 10-point loss earlier in district play and also snapped an eight-game losing streak in the series.
“I think our team responds well to challenges,” Rhodes said. “We had to have that Wylie East game. To have a shot we had to have it. Once Tarrence hit that shot, we turned the focus to Sherman. We had to have that one as well.”
And while the Jackets may enter the playoffs off losses against district champ McKinney North and runner-up Lovejoy, Denison is focused on how it can be the best it needs to be at the most important time of the season.
“Lone Star’s pretty good but they’ve got to make shots like we do,” Rhodes said. “We’re there and they believe in themselves. We’ve got a stepping stone to build off of. Small steps are valuable.”
Denison’s last playoff victory was in 2010 as a third seed and the year prior it was in the same position as these Jackets and as a fourth-seed knocked off state-ranked and district champ Newman Smith by five points.
Lone Star shared the 9-5A championship with Frisco Liberty after the two rivals compiled 16-2 marks in the all-Frisco ISD district. Lone Star had a chance to win the title outright but lost in the season-finale, 54-47, against third-place Frisco. The Rangers then won a coin flip to get the top seed for the playoffs.
In the loss to Frisco last week, Isaiah Lewis had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Marvin Mims added 10 points and nine rebounds and T’Mari Jones and Julian Larry each chipped in seven points apiece.
Liberty beat Lone Star earlier this month, 79-66, to hand the Rangers their other district loss, so Lone Star enters the postseason having lost two of three games.
“We have to be that much more focused because they’re looking to make a statement,” Rhodes said.
The program is in the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons — missing only in 2016 — and reached the area round last year. Its best finish was the region final in 2014.
It was a rough start to the season for the Rangers, who opened by dropping four of their first five games — including a 55-40 setback against Lovejoy, one of Denison’s district opponents — and sat at 6-6 before hitting their stride.
Lewis, a six-foot-six senior headed to Northern Arizona, leads the team with 12.1 points and 6.7 rebounds and is second on the team with 3.1 assists.
“He can play. We know who makes them go,” Rhodes said. “That doesn’t mean he scores all the points. He’s the engine.”
A pair of juniors are also averaging double figures. Mims is at 11.9 points and 4.5 rebounds while Larry is at 10 points, 4.5 assists and 3.6 rebounds.
Seven Rangers are averaging at least five points per game.
“They’re aggressive and get after you,” Rhodes said. “They’re going to make you have to make shots.”