MELISSA — With district play right around the corner, Denison was sitting on a three-game losing streak and had a final chance to enter the most important part of the season on a positive note.
The Yellow Jackets found the start of that success on the defensive end of the floor and a big run to open the second half propelled Denison to a 56-42 victory against Melissa in non-district action.
“Defensively, that’s what I want — run around and cause problems,” Denison head coach Dale Rhodes said. “I like the fact there weren’t a lot of putbacks. If we limit them to one shot, let’s rebound the ball and let’s go. The offense will come from that.”
Keleon Vaughn scored 16 points, Nate Uber totaled 14 points, Asa Osbourn chipped in seven points and Jadarian Price finished with six points for Denison (11-10), which opens 10-5A play by hosting Princeton on Friday night. The Jackets enter district play with more than double their win total from last season as they try for a second straight playoff appearance.
“It’s good morale for them. It’s good to have it,” Rhodes said. “But now it’s 0-0. It’s a good feeling but we need to go win these games because of what they mean.”
Ezra Monroe scored 12 points, Hudson Czarnecki added nine points — all in the second half — and Phoenix Bramhall chipped in eight points for Melissa (11-11), which starts District 11-4A action at Anna on Friday.
Monroe only made shot with the rest of his points coming at the free-throw line and he went stretches without the ball in his hands.
“The goal was to take away the head of their team,” Rhodes said. “I think we did a good job of executing that game plan.”
On the other side Denison’s leading scorer, Tarrence Gaines, finished with just four points and sat in the fourth quarter with district play looming and the Jackets holding a double-digit lead for all of the second half.
“We’ve jumped out on people and struggled to hold it,” Rhodes said. “We were able to get a lead and hold it with him on the bench. It’s a positive.”
The Yellow Jackets’ 15-point advantage at the start of the fourth quarter didn’t move much as both teams struggled from the field. Denison made just one basket in the first four minutes but Melissa’s output in the same span was only three free throws. Price and Vaughn got the Jackets out of their funk and the Cardinals were still trailing by 15 at the four-minute mark.
Czarnecki converted a three-point play with just under three minutes to go to make it a 12-point game but it was the closest Melissa could get the rest of the way.
Denison’s lead stretched to double digits right out of the intermission. Vaughn made a three-pointer which was the start of a 14-0 run over the first five minutes of the third quarter in which he accounted for half of the scoring. Uber also connected from deep during the run that pushed the margin to 38-16 before Czarnecki made a three-pointer to end Melissa’s drought.
The Cardinals missed their first seven shots of the quarter and both Vaughn and Zaelin Wimbish came up with steals that turned into buckets at the other end.
Even though the Jackets made just one shot in the final three-plus minutes of the frame, Denison carried a 40-24 advantage to the final eight minutes.
The Cardinals got within three points thanks to a quick 6-1 burst to open the second quarter.
But when Jaron Withers made it a 15-12 deficit less than three minutes into the frame, Uber followed with a three and Melissa managed to trim the margin to four a couple of times after that, the last at 20-16 on two free throws from Monroe.
The Jackets closed the half with four points — three by Wimbish — for a 24-16 advantage at the break that quickly jumped to double digits.
Denison held a 14-6 lead at the end of the first quarter when Uber hit his second three-pointer of the quarter with 36 seconds remaining on the clock. Vaughn had four points in the frame, including a three, and Gaines made hist only two buckets.
Monroe hit three free throws and Bramhall had the other three points for the Cardinals in the stanza.