The boys basketball season’s still young, but Conner Lidiak and his Martin teammates have already shown they know how to handle high-pressure moments.
In the championship game of the recent Martin Tournament, the host Warriors had seen their lead over Flower Mound Marcus dwindle to one point. But rather than panic, Martin dialed up the defense.
Marcus had the ball for the final 20 seconds but couldn’t find an opening in the paint. The Marauders had to settle for a one-legged fade away from beyond the 3-point arc and the Warriors held on for a 42-41 victory.
“We had the lead pretty much the whole fourth quarter,” said Lidiak, a senior shooting guard. “They started coming back with a couple minutes left. We had to make key stops.”
Whether it’s providing key stops or making timely shots, Martin has shown it’s back to playing winning basketball under first-year coach Clint Schnell. The perennial power dipped a bit last season, advancing to the second round of the playoffs but finishing with a losing record.
“The first time I saw them, I saw a group of guys that have skill and have a passion for the game,” said Schnell, who spent the past six seasons as an assistant at Coppell. “And as I got to know them, I realized they just wanted to get back to winning.”
The Warriors are winning, all right. The team began December with a 6-0 record. The team has had some lopsided wins but also a few down-to-the wire performances. “We’ve won games a lot of ways: a couple nail-biters a couple blowouts,” Lidiak said. “We’ve learned how to play down the stretch to close them out.”
One of those nail-biters came in Martin’s home opener against Mansfield Legacy. Senior point guard Kam Malbrough turned a defensive rebound by Jalen Petillo into a dramatic game winning basket.
“It was tied against Legacy and they tried a three,” Malbrough said. “Jalen battled for the ball … and I got loose and took it up the sideline to the volleyball line, shot it and hit the 3-pointer.”
The senior’s long-distance shot gave the Warriors a 53-50 victory. He never had any doubt it would go in as he released the buzzer beater. “I felt it,” Malbrough said.
Malbrough also hit the late go-ahead bucket in a win against Waxahachie. But he’s not the only confident shooter on the team. Lidiak leads the Warrirors in scoring, but the scoring load’s balanced. No one player has to do it all, Lidiak said.
“Our coach said the greatest thing we do is play together as a team,” Lidiak said. “Any guy can be the guy that night. We don’t need a 20-point [scoring] night.”
Improved passing and communication have also led to easier scoring chances. “We kind of have more trust in each other,” junior shooting guard Seth Harwell said. “We play together as a team way better. Last year, it was one shot and done.”
And when no one’s shot is falling, they can always fall back on their defense. “It’s probably our defense. Our defense has been key to winning games,” said Petillo, a junior power forward. “Sometimes we have off shooting nights, but our defense has kept us in the game.”