GUNTER — As the defending district champion with four key players back, the Whitesboro Bearcats know they are going to get everyone’s best shot to unseat them after they went 11-1 to claim the crown.
And while they have already lost as many games as they did last season, records can sometimes be deceiving. A look at Whitesboro’s schedule shows defeats coming above the Bearcats’ weight class — almost all of them are to 4A or 5A programs.
“We usually schedule pretty hard,” Whitesboro head coach Toby Sluder said. “We’d like to win but I’d rather learn.”
The lessons look to have been paying off as the Bearcats defeated Gunter, 76-65, in District 9-3A action.
Cade Acker scored 27 points, Tryston Gaines finished with 24 points, Andrew Fletcher chipped in nine points and Montana Morgan added seven points for Whitesboro (12-9, 2-0), which has beaten two of last year’s playoff qualifiers heading to Friday’s home game against S&S.
“I really like the way my bench played,” Sluder said.
Kyle Watson scored 19 points, Zander Turner added 12 points, Trey Phillips totaled 11 points and Josh Rogers chipped in nine points for Gunter (19-3, 1-1), which has already surpassed last year’s win total. The Tigers look to get back on track at Pilot Point on Friday.
“We knew Whitesboro had so much firepower coming back,” Gunter head coach Lonnie Scott said. “Just could not make a run.”
It was the Tigers who had the upper hand early with a fast start but couldn’t maintain it. Whitesboro closed the second quarter with a big run to take the lead and used another near the end of the third quarter to break the game open.
For much of the fourth quarter the Bearcats’ lead never dipped below 14 points — only an 8-0 burst by Gunter to close the game made the margin as tight as it would be since the early stages of the second half.
Whitesboro’s lead hit 17 by the end of the third after the Bearcats started the quarter with just a five-point advantage. Acker drilled a three to open the half and Morgan made one from the left corner to push the gap to double digits for the first time less than three minutes into the stanza.
Phillips had a three of his own with just under three minutes remaining in the quarter to trim Gunter’s deficit to single digits. He followed with a free throw the next trip down the floor and the Tigers were within seven at 48-41 for what ended up being the closest margin the rest of the way as Whitesboro closed the quarter with a flurry.
Acker’s three from the left wing started the run and Gaines converted a three-point play in the middle of it. By the time Morgan scored in the closing seconds, Whitesboro was up 62-45 and on the way to the win.
The Bearcats needed an 11-0 run right before half-time to take the lead for good. It was their second run of the quarter after a 9-0 burst in the first couple minutes allowed them to take a 21-20 advantage.
Both teams took turns with the lead until Watson’s three-pointer put Gunter up 28-24. Acker followed with a three-point play, Fletcher scored on consecutive possessions and a 35-31 half-time margin would have been bigger except Turner made a three at the buzzer.
In the middle two quarters Whitesboro outscored Gunter by 27 points, making up for the Bearcats’ sluggish start. The Tigers were quickly up 10-4 and then Turner hit a three for a 13-4 lead in the middle of the first.
“They’re very scrappy. I love the way they play,” Sluder said. “We didn’t match their intensity at the start. We’ve got a bad habit of that.”
Whitesboro made just one shot over the latter half of the quarter but the Tigers couldn’t continue the hot start with just two buckets of their own in that same span, including a three-point play from Rogers to make it 20-12 at the end of the opening eight minutes.
“I think they lost focus a little bit,” Scott said. “For this group, everything is going to be a grind. They have to grind out everything. That’s going to be us every night, no matter who we play.”
Whitesboro may not have been out to prove a point against a team sitting with a better record than the Bearcats. There may be one or two more ahead on the schedule. What matters is where they sit in the standings and for now, that’s in first place.
“We’ll take a chip on our shoulder,” Sluder said. “That’s fine.”