PROSPER — After taking a couple of generations to reach the region tournament, the Whitesboro Bearcats decided to stick around a little while longer.
Jumping to an early double-digit lead and holding it for all but a minute over the final three-and-a-half quarters, the Bearcats defeated Troup, 55-36, in a Class 3A Region II semifinal.
Whitesboro (26-9) advanced to the region final for the first time since 1965 and will take on defending 3A champion Dallas Madison, which had a 73-42 win over Jefferson in the other semifinal, at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Prosper. The winner moves on to the state tournament next week in San Antonio.
“They’re very, very talented. We’ll take our best shot,” Whitesboro head coach Toby Sluder said. “We’re going to have to take every advantage we can get.”
Tryston Gaines led the Bearcats with 22 points, seven rebounds and four steals while Montana Morgan added 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists, Carson Hickman chipped in eight points and five rebounds and Andrew Fletcher finished with six points and six rebounds.
Grayson Driggs had 14 points, Kedrick Frazier added 13 points and Bracey Cover chipped in six points for Troup (29-10), which was trying to reach the region final for the first time since 1997.
Whitesboro did not allow more than 12 points in any quarter and the defensive success was evident right from the beginning as the Tigers managed just three points in the first quarter and made just 13 shots in the game.
“We did a good job of stepping out and jumping their cutters,” Sluder said. “They try to beat you from the outside.”
Troup did hit eight three-pointers but little else.
The Bearcats raced out to a 12-0 lead after Fletcher and Morgan took steals the length of the court and then Hickman and Morgan nailed consecutive three-pointers.
“That was nice,” Sluder said. “We hit some shots outside and that loosened them up.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers’ first four possessions had three turnovers and a missed three-pointer before Clayton Vickers made a layup in the middle of the quarter to put Troup on the board. A free throw by Blake Wood with 38 seconds to go was the only other scoring for the Tigers in the frame and Whitesboro got baskets from Gaines and Hickman for a 16-3 advantage following the opening eight minutes.
Despite going scoreless for the final 4:24 of the second quarter, the Bearcats went into the locker room with a 25-13 advantage because Troup was still struggling offensively. In that same span it only managed a floater from Driggs. Whitesboro had opened the quarter on a 7-3 burst with a three from Hickman and then a pair of buckets from Gaines before going into its funk.
The Bearcats pushed their lead to 16 points in the first few minutes of the second half behind Gaines, which included a dunk that made it 33-18.
The only time in the second half that Troup got within single digits was when Driggs banked in a three from the left corner, his second straight from long distance, with a little more than a minute remaining in the third. Morgan’s layup at the third-quarter buzzer gave Whitesboro a 35-24 lead going to the fourth.
Across the second and third quarters, Driggs and Frazier scored all of Troup’s 21 points.
Whitesboro put the game away with a 12-0 run in the middle of the fourth. After Troup trimmed the margin to 39-29 with just over six minutes left, Cade Acker hit a three-point to start the surge, Hickman converted a three-point play in the middle of it and Morgan finished it off with a pair of free throws for a 51-29 advantage in a two-minute span.
The Bearcats never held less than an 18-point margin the rest of the way in securing their spot as one of the final eight teams still standing.