A win in January can help lead a team end up playing games in March.
Justin Northwest boys basketball coach Mike Hatch has pointed to his team’s 65-52 victory at Saginaw Chisholm Trail on Jan. 6 as the result that changed the mindset for his squad.
Not only were the Texans (32-6) a confident team, they now believed they were capable of doing something that resulted in them playing in the program’s first appearance in the state tournament. Northwest represented Region I at the Class 5A state tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio this past weekend. The Texans lost to Fort Bend Marshall in the state semifinals, 82-59. Mansfield Timberview won the state title.
“After [Chisholm Trail], our kids never looked forward,” Hatch said. “Yes, it’s a cliché, but they took it one game at a time. That’s really important in a long season, because you can’t allow anything to take you away from what you do best.”
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Contending teams have to be resourceful. They must be diverse. They must play good defense. They must not crack in adverse times.
When the playoffs began Feb. 21 in Gainesville against Sherman, the Texans immediately faced that when sophomore shooting guard Avery Johnson left the game early in the third quarter with foul difficulty.
That turned to junior forward Jordan Keys who emerged with a double double (25 points, 12 rebounds) to spur a 78-68 victory. Keys then carried that forward in the area 71-43 victory over Grapevine with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
“The Sherman game proved to Jordan what he was capable of,” Hatch said. “He no longer was just one of the pieces to the puzzle. Now, he’s one of our big wheels. I don’t think you’re going to be successful with one guy [Anderson] doing the heavy lifting.”
As playoff runs go, there are going to be games where a team clicks. That was Grapevine followed by a 76-58 victory over Birdville in the Region I quarterfinals.
Then the sum of all fears conspired in the Region I semifinals against El Paso Andress. Foul problems, which had an issue for Anderson throughout the postseason, caught up with him early in the fourth quarter when he fouled out. Keys joined him a little later.
Northwest was missing its top two scorers and trailed by six points in the latter stages of the period. The Texans didn’t fold. That’s where senior point guard Tucker Dunn, junior post Darrell Simpson and freshman sharpshooter guard Julien Smith filled in the gaps. Northwest escaped in overtime, 62-58.
Less than 24 hours later, the Texans were cutting down the nets. They rallied from a large deficit in the first half and defeated El Paso Burges in the Region I title game, 65-62.
“It was something about the unique quality of this team that Tucker brought,” Hatch said. “That’s what you want from your senior point guard. He didn’t want the season to end and held us together against Andress. Darrell had a big basket that put us up for good against Andress. They were all a piece of what we were trying to do.”
Every year is different. But the core of this team returns in 2017-2018 between Anderson, Simpson, Keys and Smith. Hatch likely will move Anderson to the point. He just needs to find some complementary size with the graduation of senior forwards Fernando Ruiz and Jay Am’mons IV.