A deep postseason run becomes a deep postseason run because different identities develop.
When the Keller Indians boys basketball team began its playoff run on Feb. 21 against Mansfield in the Class 6A Region I bi-district round, many weren’t sold. Sure, the Indians won, 60-44. But they were supposed to win. They were the No. 1 seed. The Tigers were the No. 4.
But on that Friday at Clyde High School in the area round against Odessa Permian, Keller head coach Randall Durant thought something was different. Keller won 63-43 and it wasn’t even that close.
“When you win a postseason game, you see your confidence grow,” he said. “But the way we played against Permian was pretty impressive. We came out with energy and blew their doors off. I thought this could be something.”
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That something eventually turned into history. For the first time, the Indians (33-3) went to the state tournament this past weekend at the Alamodome in San Antonio. They fell to San Antonio Wagner in the state semifinals, 56-44. Cy Falls won the state championship.
Through the run, the Indians became an even better defensive force in the playoffs. They frustrated North Crowley in the Region I quarterfinals, 66-51. Their trademark 3-2 zone, designed to cut off good looks from 3-point shooting teams, forced one of those in Allen to play a slower pace in the Region I semifinals, 69-61. They used a big defensive play to force a turnover and turn it into the game-winning basket against Arlington Bowie in the Region I championship game, 57-55.
“They just got a rush about them and just expected to win and play well,” Durant said. “I liked our presence and our poise throughout all of this.”
Indeed, flash back to the Allen game where the Indians appeared to be in command. Then the Eagles hit them with a press in latter stages of the third quarter and early part of the fourth quarter that helped them regain the lead, 50-49.
Undaunted, Keller responded.
“What made this team great is that they relied on each other,” Durant said. “They made the right passes. They got some layups. Defensively, they kept getting back. That’s what you need.”
The adage of letting your best player be your best player is not redundant. There are times when the best player on the floor may not have an impact. That wasn’t the case with R.J. Nembhard. The senior guard and TCU signee answered the demands each game. He averaged 31 points in the first five playoff games before a disappointing finish in the state semifinals.
“R.J. wasn’t just scoring,” Durant said. “He was big defensively and on the win and down low rebounding. He wore a lot on his shoulders and performed. But I’m not surprised. He’s been locked in all year. When you get to that last ride, you’re going to get your money’s worth. His maturity was really big for us.”
Keller also received consistent performances from junior forward Carson Hughes, senior guard Brady Boyd and senior forward Jackson Hataway. But all good things end. This team loses eight seniors. The two primary returners are Hughes and junior guard Preston Hannah, who appears to be the heir apparent to be the heir apparent point guard.
“We’ll have to be creative next year,” Durant said. “But that’s what makes this profession fun. Every year, you have a new challenge.”