It was going to be a tall order for the Sherman Bearcats to make the playoffs. They essentially had to win their last three games and all of them had sticking points — first it was facing their rival, then it was facing the first-place team and then it would be facing the team they were in direct competition with for the final postseason berth.
Sherman got through the first step by knocking off Denison and that led to a match-up with the Princeton Panthers, who had lost just one district contest so far. But the Bearcats had reason to like their chances, because they lost by only two points at Princeton in the first meeting.
And for two-and-half-quarters Sherman was poised for the upset. Then the Panthers went on a 13-0 run late in the third and were able to hold on for a 66-58 victory in District 10-5A action at Bearcat Gymnasium.
Xzavier Roberson had 26 points and 13 rebounds, Kasai Burton added 12 points and Mason Gabriel totaled 10 points for Sherman (10-22, 2-7), which was eliminated from the postseason due to its loss and Wylie East's win over Lovejoy. If East hadn't won and gotten the last spot, Tuesday's match-up with the Bearcats would have given Sherman the chance to force a play-in with the Raiders, who would have remained one game ahead of the Bearcats in the standings.
Tre McGrue scored 29 points, Vernoris Hickerson added 11 points and Antwone Owens and Isaiah Sadler each finished with seven points for Princeton (22-6, 8-1), which clinched at least a share of the district title. The Panthers face second-place McKinney North to close out the season and can earn the outright crown with a win.
Sherman led for all but a handful of possession until McGrue's layup with 2:03 left in the third put Princeton ahead for the first time at 37-36. It was in the middle of the big run which turned Sherman's 36-28 advantage into a 41-36 deficit.
“We couldn't get shots to fall,” Sherman head coach Jordan Marks said. “Up three at the half and end of the third quarter we were only down two so it was just a five-point swing.”
Sherman tied the score at 41 as Roberson putback his own miss less than a minute into the fourth quarter. Princeton then turned up the full-court pressure and the Bearcats were unable to handle it for the next few minutes.
McGrue started his personal run of points at this juncture and he carried Princeton in the second half. He hit just one shot in the first two quarters before going off for 26 points in the second half — 16 of it in the fourth quarter when he scored 12 straight points for the Panthers.
“Probably the MVP in the district,” Marks said. “He got hot. The zone slowed him a little bit but then when we fell behind and had to go man, that opened things up for them and him for some one-on-one situations.”
Roberson made it a four-point margin with 3:48 remaining before Princeton quickly pumped its lead back to nine at 55-46 with just over two minutes left. That's when the Bearcats' defense forced some turnovers and kept the Panthers within striking distance. Sherman was down four twice, the last being 61-57 with 1:02 to go on a Burton drive.
The Bearcats came up with a steal on the inbounds pass but seconds later turned it over. Hickerson and McGrue combined to make 5-of-6 free throws in the next 20 seconds to seal Sherman's fate.
Roberson did his best to try and keep the Bearcats in the hunt. He had 12 points and seven rebounds in the first half and finished with a career high as part of a strong finish to his senior season.
“He's been trending up the last three or four games,” Marks said.
The balance in the scoring column was tilted towards Princeton, which got production from eight of the 10 Panthers. As Sherman's big trio of Roberson, Burton and Gabriel combined for 48 of the 58 points, no other Bearcat scored more than four.
Sherman held an 11-4 lead after the first quarter. Princeton's only baskets were by Hickerson and Sadler while Roberson and Gabriel combined on a 9-2 run to end the frame.
Sadler was the only Panther to make multiple shots in the first half but Princeton hung around and went into half-time down 26-23 because four of its six buckets in the second quarter were three-pointers. Anthony Alba and Sadler hit consecutive ones to tie the game at 17 in the middle of the stanza before the Bearcats leaned on Gabriel, Burton and Roberson for a 9-2 burst and a 26-19 advantage.
Sherman then went scoreless the final 2:24 of the half and Princeton chipped away for a more manageable deficit at the break.