HOWE — When district play started, the Bulldogs sat there with a 2-9 record, one of those victories against a junior varsity team, and an uphill climb.

HOWE — When district play started, the Bulldogs sat there with a 2-9 record, one of those victories against a junior varsity team, and an uphill climb.

Then the Bulldogs saw that no luck from the non-district schedule had turned to bad luck during 11-2A action. A pair of one-point losses to Tom Bean, by the same score no less. Defeats by Whitewright and Callisburg on late shots for three-point margins.

But Howe overcame the sluggish start to its season and the heartbreaking losses in the middle to find themselves returning to the playoffs at the end after a 50-29 victory — its third straight — against Pottsboro on Friday night.

"It’s a different team every year. You’ve got to get them in the right places," Howe head coach Tim Rose said. "We’re playing as well as we can play right now. If you looked at us at the beginning of the year....same players. Two different teams."

John Jacob Talley scored 14 points, Brice Harvey added 13 points and Michael Kehrer chipped in nine points for Howe. The Bulldogs rely on four sophomores and the growing pains of a tough non-district slate eventually paid off for those behind the two top senior scorers.

"These guys are good, young players. They’ve played a lot of basketball," Rose said. "They just haven’t been at the varsity level."

The win locked the Bulldogs (9-16, 7-6) into 11-2A’s final postseason berth with one game remaining and Howe pulled away in the fourth quarter to avoid a potential play-in scenario against either the Cardinals or Callisburg — or both — after the regular season closes on Tuesday.

Caleb Wideman had 12 points and eight rebounds for Pottsboro, which needed to win out and have the Bulldogs lose their final two. The Cardinals could get halfway there after Friday night and led by a point after the first quarter before Howe gained control of the contest.

"They came out in a little bit different set. We had to make an adjustment," Rose said. "We were getting nice shots. They just weren’t going."

The Bulldogs took a nine-point lead at the break, 25-16, before Pottsboro started chipping away behind Hunter Mullenix.

Mullenix scored all seven of his points in the third quarter, sparking a personal 7-2 spurt to open the frame and get the deficit down to three points. He also grabbed five rebounds while Kory Waller snagged eight boards.

By the end of the third quarter, however, Talley made a pair of shots — one underneath at the buzzer — and Howe had restored its nine-point advantage.

Wideman hit two free throws and a jumper to start the final eight minutes, getting Pottsboro within five and setting up what looked to be another down-to-the-wire finish for the Bulldogs.

Howe then scored the next 18 points in a six-minute span, sealing the victory.

"They were looking for each other, being unselfish, took what they were giving us," Rose said.

During the run Kehrer hit a 3-pointer from the left corner and followed Griffin Underwood’s steal and score with a three-point play that pushed the lead to 20 with just over three minutes remaining. Wideman had all six fourth-quarter Pottsboro points.

"The whole night we played really good defense," Rose said. "We forced a bunch of turnovers. We didn’t give up double-digits any quarter."