We had been here before — same teams, different gym and almost a year to the day — so it was no surprise the path to a victory remained the same.
It was going to end at the free-throw line because that’s where it started almost immediately after the game began.
There were fouls for any infraction you could imagine. And as they piled up so did the free throws, and the lack of success at the line by both Sherman and Denison turned the 10-5A match-up into a war of attrition.
After blowing an 11-point half-time lead and finding themselves down by seven with six minutes to go, the Bearcats rallied and held on for a 65-62 victory against the Yellow Jackets at Denison.
There were a combined 56 fouls called — 34 of them in the first half — and the rhythm of the game turned into a slog early in the second quarter. By the time it was over Sherman made 24-of-52 free-throw attempts while Denison hit 15-of-30 from the line.
“If we make free throws, regardless of what’s going on, we can still win that game,” Denison head coach Dale Rhodes said. “That’s still on us.”
It was almost a carbon copy of their first meeting last season, a 10-point Sherman win on its home floor when 50 fouls were called and the free-throw shooting wasn’t much better — Denison was 9-of-27 at the charity stripe while the Bearcats ended 15-of-31.
In this one, both teams were desperate to get out of the bottom of the standing and jump into the district race.
“Rivalry game you throw a lot out the window,” Sherman head coach Jordan Marks sad. “A win like this on the road against your rival, it helps your locker room jell. It can really help a locker room.”
Jalarien Wilson scored 17 points, Kasai Burton added 14 points, Mason Gabriel chipped in 13 points and Dadrien Calhoun-Moore totaled eight points for Sherman (9-17, 1-2), which moved into a fourth-place tie with Wylie East and travels to second-place Princeton on Tuesday.
Keleon Vaughn scored 17 points, Nate Uber added 14 points, Zaelin Wimbish and Tarrence Gaines each had nine points and Caleb Heavner chipped in seven points for Denison (11-13, 0-3), which is the only winless team in the district and hosts first-place McKinney North on Tuesday night.
“They’ll fight. They played hard. They’ll come to play regardless of who it is,” Rhodes said. “We’ve got some work to do. We’ve got seven more of these. Fix some things and we can be right back in it.”
Down the stretch the Jackets were trying to hold on and then force overtime without four starters. Wimbish missed the final 11 minutes while Uber, Gaines and Heavner all were disqualified in the final 6:37. Sherman only lost Xzaver Roberson to fouls in the opening seconds of the fourth.
“Our guys have not done well in games like this. It was about finding a way to attack their guys in foul trouble,” Marks said.
The Bearcats looked to be in trouble when Vaughn made a three from the left corner and was fouled, converting the four-point play with just over six minutes left for a 56-49 lead.
“The guys realized that we had to get stops. Guys stepped up and we made some shots,” Marks said. “If we can find a couple more road wins and protect home court then we’re right in it. They’re seeing some things they can do well.”
It took almost five minutes but Sherman was able to go ahead for good on Burton’s layin with 1:03 remaining. After Heavner’s drive from the left side with 2:34 left for a 62-58 lead, the Jackets never scored again.
Calhoun-Moore scored underneath, hit a free throw on the next possession and the Bearcats were down one. Following Burton’s go-ahead bucket for a 63-62 advantage, the Jackets had a chance to reclaim the lead but turned the ball over.
Forced to foul, Gaines picked up his fifth with 15 seconds left but Gabriel missed the first shot of the one-and-one situation. Heavner was called for his fifth on the rebound and Rhodes was give a technical for arguing.
Sherman couldn’t put the Jackets away, however, as it was in the middle of missing four-of-five free throws. Burton eventually made one and then Vontrelle Sanders added another seconds later. Vaughn’s three from the right wing to send the game to overtime came up short.
Denison used a 9-0 run to open the second half that quickly whittled down a 37-26 deficit. Uber scored the first five points of the streak that got the Jackets within two. They tied it at 39 on a Wimbish drive and his three on the next possession and Denison was in front with four minutes to go in the quarter.
Burton converted a three-point play for a one-point Sherman advantage and the lead changed hands six times over the final 3:20, the last a putback by Tre Rhodes with four seconds on the clock for a 48-47 Denison margin going to the fourth.
The Bearcats took their first lead on a Burton free throw after Gabriel’s three tied the score at 19. Denison briefly pulled even on a free throw by Wimbish before a three-minute scoring drought allowed Sherman to go ahead 29-21 — all of it at the free throw line.
A 6-1 run to close the second quarter sent Sherman into the locker room up 11. At that point Denison had been called for 20 fouls and Sherman 14 as the entire second stanza was played in the double bonus.
Denison started the game on a 7-1 run as the Bearcats didn’t make a shot until midway through the first quarter. But the Jackets were unable to really extend the lead while Sherman was struggling and after Gabriel made a three with 2:33 left in the frame the Bearcats were down just four.
Uber responded with a four-point play on the ensuing possession and Gaines followed with a dunk to push Denison’s advantage back to double digits. A quick four points from the Bearcats, three by Wilson, in the final 35 seconds made it an 18-12 score following the opening eight minutes.