PROSPER — They went toe-to-toe with the best that Class 3A had to offer and unfortunately for the Whitesboro Bearcats, the match-up didn’t come in the title game or a state semifinal.
Standing in the way of Whitesboro making the final four for the first time in a pair of generations was Dallas Madison, the defending champs. In the early going that fact didn’t matter. The Bearcats led by four after the first quarter and by one at the half.
After three quarters the score was deadlocked. And Whitesboro needed to be better for just the next eight minutes to pull off the upset against the top-ranked team in the state.
But the Trojans’ title defense wasn’t going to end quietly and they had the upper hand in the first part of the fourth quarter, which turned out to be the difference on the way to a 65-54 win over the Bearcats in the Class 3A Region II final.
“We didn’t make some shots. They had to play really hard to get to that point,” Whitesboro head coach Toby Sluder said.
Dallas Madison (22-12) will play in a state semifinal at either 1:30 p.m. or 3 p.m. on Thursday at the Alamodome in San Antonio. It is the Trojans’ third trip to state in four years, sixth in the last eight seasons and 14th overall dating back to 1959.
Tryston Gaines had 14 points and eight rebounds, Montana Morgan added 14 points, five rebounds and four assists, Carson Hickman scored 11 points and Cade Acker chipped in eight points and seven rebounds for Whitesboro (26-9), which was trying to get to state for the second time and first since 1965.
“Really proud of these seniors. They really bought in to playing hard-nosed defense,” Sluder said. “That’s the one thing we really preached to win was defense and they bought in completely.”
This whole season has been the best since that semifinal appearance 55 years ago and the Bearcats clinched that just by reaching the region tournament.
“It was a great ride to go on,” Sluder said. “We gave it a heck of a run.”
DyeShun King scored 16 points, Jerome Rogers and Kaden Keal each had 12 points, Christian Henry chipped in 11 points and Tavorice Weaver added 10 points for the Trojans, who have won 18 straight after starting the season 0-8 and 2-11.
Despite being the underdog in the match-up, Whitesboro didn’t act like one.
“They believed 100 percent we had a chance to win this game,” Sluder said. “We’re just as good a basketball team. We didn’t have a couple things go our way.”
Madison used an 8-1 run to open the fourth quarter and take control. Consecutive threes from Rogers and King made it 53-46 with a little more than five minutes remaining and it took until 3:44 left before Hickman’s layup was the first Whitesboro basket of the frame.
The Bearcats got within five points twice right after that and were down six on an Acker free throw with 2:34 to go but Madison made 10-of-12 free throws in the quarter to seal the victory.
Early on the Bearcats weren’t just in it, they were the better squad. The teams played even for the opening four-plus minutes before Hickman hit a pair of threes and Gaines dunked during an 8-2 burst as Whitesboro led 13-7.
Madison trimmed the lead to 17-13 after the first quarter but the Bearcats’ confidence was growing.
“They knew they were in for a battle,” Sluder said. “They knew we were here.”
The Trojans used a 9-0 run in the middle of the second quarter, holding the Bearcats scoreless for more than three minutes to turn a six-point deficit into a 27-24 advantage.
Acker made a three-pointer to tie the game at 30 with just over two minutes until the half and Morgan’s three-point play a minute later allowed Whitesboro to head into the break with a 33-32 lead.
Whitesboro looked like it was going to take a lead into the fourth when Gaines hit a turnaround jumper from the wing at the buzzer off an inbounds pass next to the scorer’s table with 1.1 seconds left. After the quarter ended the Bearcats bench received a technical foul and Henry hit a foul shot to tie the game at 45.
The only other time Whitesboro led in the second half was on Acker’s laup with 5:28 remaining in the third. Hickman did have a three-pointer to tie the game at 38 but Rogers was the main force for Madison in the quarter.
Madison pulled back on its pressure, a change from their normal plan to frustrate opponents and pick up easy baskets, like the 28 turnovers they forced in a 72-43 win over Jefferson the day before. Ten times they scored at least 89 points in a game, with a high of 121, and the 65 points was the Trojans’ third-lowest point total in a win this year.
“I think they figured out we could break their press,” Sluder said. “They weren’t going to get those points if they can’t get those turnovers.”
The Bearcats advanced to the region final with a 55-36 victory against Troup. Whitesboro scored the first 12 points of the game and held a double-digit lead for all but a minute over the final three-and-a-half quarters.
Gaines had 22 points, seven rebounds and four steals while Morgan added 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists, 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.