Moral-es victory: Timely plays pull Panthers past Richland (UPDATED)
HALTOM CITY -- Neither Plano East nor Richland held a lead of more than three points in the second half Thursday in the first round at the Whataburger Tournament.
So it would only be fitting that the matchup came down to a series of nip-and-tuck possessions in the fourth quarter -- nearly all of which wound up favoring the Panthers in a 47-45 victory from the W.G. Thomas Coliseum.
"We had some big shots made and some big stops defensively," said Jeff Clarkson, East head coach. "[Richland] has two great players who can go and get shots on their own, so the fact that we were able to limit them to tough shots; I'm proud of them."
The Panthers and Rebels exchanged the lead on 18 occasions Thursday including six times in the fourth quarter.
East senior Chico Morales keyed the Panthers' last two grasps at the lead, recording a steal and scampering up the floor for a layup that gave East a 44-43 lead with 90 seconds left in the contest.
Richland's Hayden Hunter answered with an off-balance jumper with one minute remaining, only for Morales to respond with a bucket from the right elbow for a 46-45 edge with 30 seconds left.
"[Morales] is a clutch player," Clarkson said. "He's made countless plays late in summer league games, so we're never surprised when he makes big shots like that. He has a knack for that stuff."
The Panthers relied on their defense the rest of the way, forcing Oklahoma State commit Leyton Hammonds into an errant fall-away jumper and intercepting a full-court heave on Richland's final possession to secure the win.
The Panthers didn't let Hunter decide their fate, with the Richland sharpshooter not touching the ball on the team's final two possessions -- despite leading the Rebels with 22 points.
"We were trying to push [Hunter] to his right because he's so good going left," Clarkson said. "Whatever they ran, once he gave it up, we just tried to prevent him from getting it again. We denied him and fortunately he never got it back in a good scoring spot."
East's offensive ledger featured a bit more balance, with senior Jarvis Pugh dropping 11 points, senior Patrick Birt adding eight and seniors Marcus Mathieu, Xavier Smith and David Havala each chipping in seven.
The Panthers managed to reduce Hunter into being Richland's lone consistent source of offense, holding Hammonds (10 points) without a field goal in the second half. Yet neither team ever gained more than a two-possession advantage.
Any two-score leads belonged to the Panthers though, with East opening up a 13-8 edge in the first quarter after a Morales lay-in.
One minute into the second quarter, Smith gave the Panthers a 17-12 advantage following a turnaround jumper. Richland answered with a 6-0 run, pushing the ball in transition at all costs early on.
"[Richland] definitely likes to leak guys out and get on the break," Clarkson said. "We struggled with that early in the game because we like to go for those offensive boards, but we readjusted in the second half."
Birt had the counter though, closing out the opening half with a 4-0 spurt of his own to give East a 21-20 lead entering the break.
The Panthers were able to expand that margin by one point to 37-35 after three quarters, despite facing a zone for the entire frame. Pugh in particular, capitalized on the defense with six points, including an alley-oop lay-in set up by Birt for a 30-27 lead.
East places second overall
Thursday was just a sign of things to come for the Panthers, who knocked off two more state-ranked squads en route to finishing second at the Whataburger Tournament.
East followed up the Richland victory by eking out a 40-39 victory over Duncanville, ranked No. 5 in the state according to the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, on Friday in a contest that saw neither team outscore the other by more than two points by the end of each quarter.
Morales again came through with a game-high 15 points, while Mathieu later led the charge with 20 points in the semifinals for a 61-55 win over Richardson Berkner (No. 10).
The Panthers' bid at a tournament championship would fall short on Saturday after Long Beach Poly rode a 17-5 advantage in the second quarter for a 51-40 victory. Smith led the Panthers with 15 points while Mathieu and Pugh scored six in the loss.
East returns to action Saturday at 1:30 p.m. to host Sachse.
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