Because of the Thanksgiving holiday break, there was about to be a long gap between games for the Yellow Jackets.
And after opening the season with a loss, the challenge by Denison head coach Dale Rhodes to his sophomore-laden team was a little tougher since they didn’t have any margin for error.
“I told them we had to be 2-1 going into the break. Now it’s time to set another small goal,” Rhodes said. “It starts in practice. We had a really good week.”
The improvement over the final two-and-a-half quarters allowed the Yellow Jackets to pull away for a 71-52 victory over Anna in non-district action at Denison.
Tarrence Gaines and Nate Uber each scored 11 points, Trey Rhodes, Jadarian Price and Keleon Vaughn chipped in nine points apiece and Caleb Heavner finished with eight points for Denison (2-1), which is off until hosting Frisco Lebanon Trail on Tuesday night.
“I’ll take that balance,” Rhodes said. “While it’s still early I want see which guys are going to force me to say they should be playing.”
Jaden Adams scored 16 points, Jaedin Victorian added 12 points and Josiah Mackey finished with 11 points for Anna (1-2), which had a one-point advantage after the first quarter.
Denison was able to push its lead to 22 points in the middle of the fourth as the Coyotes managed just a single free throw by Mackey in the first four-and-a-half minutes of the quarter.
Gaines blocked a shot near the wing and went the other way for a dunk before Jalik Lewis’ putback crested the margin at 62-40.
In the middle of the third quarter, however, the game was still in the balance. Neither team got off to a hot start in the second half and when Adams hit a three-pointer and a turnaround, Denison’s lead was down to four points.
The Jackets then took off from there with a 10-0 run. Price hit a three-pointer during the stretch and Gaines capped the surge with a three-point play.
Kadrian Evans ended the three-minute drought by the Coyotes but the damage had been done and the Jackets carried the 52-39 advantage into the final eight minutes.
Denison took the lead for good just before the midway point of the second quarter. Vaughn sandwiched baskets around a Gaines layup to turn a one-point deficit to a 24-19 advantage.
Anna didn’t make a shot over the final four-plus minutes of the half, getting only free throws the rest of the way as the Jackets went into the break with a 35-30 lead.
After Uber scored the game’s opening basket, Anna jumped in front and stayed there for the rest of the first quarter. Adams had consecutive three-pointers to make it a 9-2 lead. The Jackets chipped away at the deficit with threes by Rhodes and Kyle Colvin.
“We have to settle in defensively. If we do what we do on defense, offense will come from that if we do it right,” Rhodes said. “That second-quarter effort was when we starting to turn it up defensively.”
The back-to-back wins against Carrollton Creekview and Anna had their flaws but they were steps in the right direction compared against a 25-point loss to Frisco Independence in the opener.
“I think they can see the light. It’s slowly coming,” Rhodes said. “I see steps. All in all that’s better. I’ll take steps over going backwards.”