The Sherman Bearcats knew what was at stake because they were in the exact same position a year ago.
After beating their rival in the first half of district play, a repeat of that performance would give them a chance to go into the final game of the season with a shot to extend their playoff streak to three. But Sherman wasn’t able to hold serve and the Bearcats’ playoff hopes took a major hit, and then were officially ended one game later.
This time around the only difference heading into the matchup was the location and a packed Bearcat Gymnasium saw the home team turn up the defense in the late stages of the fourth quarter as Sherman pulled away from Denison for a 68-49 victory in District 10-5A action.
“We talked about how we’ve made strides. We’ve been close in all these games,” Sherman head coach Jordan Marks said. “Guys rose to the occasion and got the win.”
Kasai Burton scored 16 points, Xzavier Roberson and Jalarien Wilson each had 15 points, Mason Gabriel chipped in seven points and Ashton Alexander added six points for Sherman (10-21, 2-6), which hosts first-place Princeton on Friday before finishing at Wylie East in a game that could be the deciding match-up for the district’s final playoff berth.
“I think the thing we’re going to do the next couple days is keep the score of the Princeton game up on the scoreboard,” Marks said. “It was 53-51 and we’ve got a chance to get a win there. And we’ve got them at home this time.”
Sherman is just a game behind Wylie East and while the Raiders hold the tie-breaker, things could be all square when the regular season ends and the Cats might be in a play-in contest.
Tarrence Gaines scored 15 points, Trey Rhodes added nine points, Keleon Vaughn chipped in eight points and Caleb Heavner and Zaelin Wimbish each had six points for Denison (12-17, 1-7), which entered district play with a winning record and had its sights set on a second straight playoff berth after ending an eight-year skid last season. But outside of a win over second-place McKinney North, the Jackets haven’t been able to find similar success to a year ago.
“One of our goals was to put more in the win column and we did that. But we didn’t put up the district wins like we wanted to,” Denison head coach Dale Rhodes said. “It’s disappointing. We wanted to build from last year and go even further and we didn’t.”
Sherman held a 13-point lead with 5:17 remaining before Rhodes hit a three-pointer and Gaines put back his own miss to pull Denison within eight, 54-46, and 4:33 to go.
The Jackets turned it over on their ensuing possession when they had a chance to get the deficit down to five and the offensive struggles carried through the rest of the game.
Denison didn’t make a shot in those final four-and-a-half minutes, getting just two free throws from Vaughn with 2:23 left to make it an eight-point margin again before Asa Osbourn’s free throw with 30 seconds left.
“If we could get rebounds, just limit them to one shot, it’s a different ballgame and we could stretch it out,” Marks said. “In the first half they got almost everything on offensive rebounds.”
Sherman closed the game on a 14-3 run sparked by Elijah Chapman’s only bucket — a one-handed putback dunk from the left baseline — and contributions from five different Bearcats to avoid a nailbiter that ultimately turned into the 10th victory in 11 tries for the Bearcats over the Jackets.
Denison trailed for the entire second half but came close to jumping in front during the third quarter. Sherman started the frame with a three-point advantage and the margin was down to two following Vaughn’s three with 5:55 left in the stanza.
But the Bearcats defense provided a cushion as three consecutive steals led to a pair of fastbreak layups from Gabriel and another by Burton to get the lead back to 39-31.
“We put some faith in our guys — if we could get transition layups, let’s go get them,” Marks said.
Gaines quieted the crowd with a dunk in traffic and Wimbish had consecutive buckets to make it 41-37. Wilson responded with a three and then he ended the quarter with a dunk and a layup as Sherman carried a 50-41 advantage to the final eight minutes.
Each team made a run in the second quarter that eventually led to a one-possession game at the break. Sherman immediately jumped in front on a three-point play by Roberson to open the stanza and then when Gaines hit two free throws for a 17-15 Denison lead, Alexander drilled two three-pointers as part of a 10-0 surge with the last long-distance shot making it 25-17 in favor of the Bearcats.
The Jackets answered with a 9-1 run — Heavner and Osbourn had buckets and Gaines made three free throws and it was a one-point game with 2:38 left in the half — before Rhodes tied it at 26 on a putback with 1:52 until half-time.
But Wilson gave Sherman a 29-26 lead at the intermission with a bucket and free throw.
Denison held a 13-12 lead at the end of the first quarter. Wilson and Heavner traded early baskets and Sherman was up 7-5 when Roberson completed a three-point play. An 8-1 run by the Jackets had them up by five before a late push from the Bearcats trimmed the margin to one.