When the Yellow Jackets ended their six-year playoff drought last year, they did so in large part to a thrilling road victory, in overtime no less, over Wylie East that provided a season sweep of the Raiders.
This time around the tables had turned and it was Wylie East’s chance to set itself up for the postseason at the expense of the Jackets. After Denison had held the Raiders down for a half, the Jackets were unable to hold on and get a victory they needed to get back in the thick of the playoff chase.
A 13-point lead with 10 minutes remaining and a nine-point margin with just under seven minutes to go was erased in a barrage of three-pointers as Wylie East rallied past the Yellow Jackets, 67-61, in District 10-5A action at Denison.
“Very, very frustrating. We were outperforming them and executing what we wanted as far as slowing them down,” Denison head coach Dale Rhodes said. “And then the wheels fell off.”
Tarrence Gaines had 20 points and 12 rebounds, Nate Uber scored 17 points, Keleon Vaughn added eight points and Jadarian Price chipped in seven points for Denison (12-16, 1-6), which will be eliminated from the playoff chase with one more loss or a Wylie East win.
The Jackets need an unlikely three-way tie with East and Sherman to even have a shot at a second straight playoff appearance. Denison needs to win at Sherman on Tuesday night on the way to winning its last three games, then have Sherman win its final two games and have East lose its last three — one of which would come against Sherman on the last night of regular season.
“They’ll play hard. They have all year,” Rhodes said. “I’m not worried about that.”
Xavier Smith scored 19 points, Jose Melendez finished with 18 points and Darren Quickley chipped in 11 points for Wylie East (15-15, 3-4), which is on the verge of locking up the district’s final playoff berth. Princeton, Lovejoy and McKinney North have all done so with three games remaining and the Raiders can get in with one more win and a Sherman loss.
Wylie East made just six shots in the first half and went into the locker room with only 20 points. But once the shots started falling in the final two quarters, the Raiders were able to complete the comeback.
Smith and Melendez combined for just eight points in the first half but seemingly couldn’t miss, especially from long range, after the break.
“We were trying to make somebody else do it and we did until they got hot,” Rhodes said.
Wylie East hit seven three-pointers in the second half and scored another three points on free throws following a foul on a long-distance shot. That fueled the rally where the Raiders produced 47 points in the half, including 27 over the final eight minutes when they outscored Denison by 11 in the frame.
“They made a run. We took on the run,” Rhodes said. “We couldn’t come up with a run when we needed it.”
Uber converted a four-point play with 6:51 left to give the Jackets a 51-42 advantage. From that point East went on a 21-6 run across six minutes to take the lead for good. Smith and Amari Griffin hit threes during the stretch and Melendez knocked down a pair.
Denison’s final lead came when Price made a free throw with 4:39 remaining — the Jackets’ next points came on two Gaines free throws with 48 seconds on the clock.
Wylie East salted the game away at the free-throw line, making 8-of-10 after Griffin’s three put the Raiders ahead to stay, 59-57, with 4:20 to go.
After holding a 25-20 half-time lead, Denison opened the third quarter with a 10-3 burst in the first three minutes as Uber and Gaines made threes for a 35-23 advantage. But Landon Clark and Smith answered immediately with three-pointers and a 7-0 burst from the Raiders later in the frame pulled them within six.
The Jackets’ 10-point lead with a minute left in the quarter was cut in half, largely on Jonathan Gonclaves three with two seconds remaining.
Melendez’s three-pointer with 3:07 to go in the first half provided Wylie East’s final lead of the second quarter at 20-18. Zaelin Wimbish converted a three-pointer on the ensuing possession before Uber’s two free throws and Price’s tip-in capped a 7-0 run for a 25-20 lead at the break.
Both teams got off to sluggish starts after Smith and Gaines traded threes to open the game. Vaughn’s floater in the lane with 43 seconds left allowed Denison to trail, 9-8, at the end of the first.