POTTSBORO — They are teams at the opposite ends of the standings, one trying to defend its district title while the other has been trying to fend off injuries since Christmas.
But as things tend to go when rivals take the floor, the number of wins under your belt or the lack of losses you’ve acquired sometimes don’t matter.
And after the Whitesboro Bearcats survived an early push from the Pottsboro Cardinals, the surge down the stretch by the home team was just enough to force overtime. In the end, Whitesboro was able to avoid the upset bid and keep its District 9-3A record untarnished with an 81-76 victory over Pottsboro.
Montana Morgan scored 26 points, Tryston Gaines added 18 points and Cade Acker and Andrew Fletcher each finished with 14 points for Whitesboro (17-9, 7-0), which can clinch a playoff spot with a win at home against fourth-place Gunter on Friday night.
“In the long run and for playoff purposes, these situations help you down the road,” Whitesboro head coach Toby Sluder said. “Senior leadership helped a little bit. We’ll start playing harder and smarter. The team that played harder tonight should have come away with the victory.”
Aidan Cannon scored 22 points, Zach Wideman added 17 points, Titus Lyons totaled 15 points and Jake Williams chipped in 12 points for Pottsboro (14-12, 1-6), which travels to third-place Pilot Point on Friday.
“It’s a tough little group,” Pottsboro head coach Greg Nix said about a team that has played all of district without its best player, Jaxon Recer, who was averaging 22 points, 13.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists when he got hurt two games before the 9-3A opener and is not expected to return this season.
Morgan started the scoring in OT with a three-pointer from the left wing and Fletcher’s layup on the ensuing Bearcat possession stunted any momentum the Cardinals had by getting to the extra frame.
Wideman hit two free throws with 2:35 to go and it was a one-possession game again. Pottsboro had a chance to tie with 41 seconds remaining but Lyons’ three was off the mark.
Morgan followed with a free throw and then his steal and layin with 16 seconds left sealed the win.
For much of the fourth quarter, the closest the Cardinals got was three points. That was the margin with 6:37 left before Whitesboro pump the lead up to 10 points after a steal and score from Morgan with just over four minutes remaining.
The Bearcats then went scoreless for nearly two minutes and the Cardinals capitalized. Cannon and Wideman pulled Pottsboro within three. Whitesboro was ready with an answer and was up, 70-62, after Gaines scored underneath as the clock ticked past two minutes.
In the closing stretch the Bearcats managed just a pair of free throws as the Cardinals chipped away.
“We weren’t basketball-smart,” Sluder said. “Didn’t make good decisions. Not making free throws didn’t help either.”
Grayson Watson’s three in the right corner made it a two-point deficit with 23 seconds remaining and after Acker hit a free throw, Wideman scored with eight seconds left.
Fletcher made a free throw a second later to put Whiteboro up two and Pottsboro went for the win on Cannon’s three-point try from the right corner. It was short but landed right in Wideman’s hands and his putback as time expired extended the game.
Whitesboro’s lead hit double digits for the first time on Morgan’s three-pointer with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter. It was still 10 more than a minute later when Pottsboro closed the frame on a 9-2 run. Braden Driggs started it with two baskets, including a three, and Lyons’ putback jumper from the left baseline at the buzzer trimmed the Cardinals’ deficit to 51-48 heading to the fourth.
Less than a minute into the second quarter the Cardinals had opened up a 13-point advantage. By the half-time buzzer, Pottsboro was trailing by four.
Fletcher and Morgan drained back-to-back threes to fuel an 11-0 run which got the Bearcats within a bucket at 25-23. Lyons and Williams did enough to keep the Cardinals in front until Gaines converted a three-point play just 33 seconds before the break for a 34-33 lead — Whitesboro’s first since 10-9.
Morgan made a running three-pointer at the buzzer, jumping across the line from the right wing, and the Bearcats were up 37-33.
Acker scored 13 of his points through two quarters and Whitesboro made six three-pointers in the half.
Cannon had 15 points at the break and combined with Lyons for 26 of the 33 points to that juncture.
After Whitesboro raced out to a 7-2 lead, Pottsboro used a 15-2 run to turn a 10-8 deficit into a 20-12 lead following the first quarter. Cannon hit two threes and had another bucket during the stretch while Lyons added seven points, including a basket with seven seconds to go.
Gaines had just five points at the half and was scoreless in the opening quarter. He had 38 points the prior game against Pilot Point and put up 29 the contest before that against Callisburg so Pottsboro packed it in to keep him from another explosive night.
“It was a great game plan. He got in early foul trouble and that didn’t help,” Sluder said. “The good thing is I’ve got some other guys who can take the lead at times.”