ALLEN — Melissa’s Cardinals don’t appear to have lost a step — or anything else — during their Christmas break. On Tuesday, Dec. 27, in the first round of the In-N-Out Burger Allen Holiday Invitational at Allen High School, the Cards raced past Krum, 81-70, using an aggressive transition game to finally tame the Class 4A Bobcats.
“I thought we came out with a lot of energy and maintained that energy for 32 minutes,” Melissa head coach Eric Benton said. “And I really think we kind of wore them down a little bit to where … I felt like we had just a little bit more gas in the tank at the end, which kind of helped us make some of those plays, get some stops, get out of transition and open it up a little bit.”
Sophomore Matt Holloway led Melissa scorers with 17 points, followed by freshman Kaedric Cobbs with 16. Rounding out the Cardinals’ double-digits scorers were sophomore Junior Castleberry with 12 points, junior Josh Wood with 11 and freshman Brendon Lewis with 10. Top point-getters for Krum (8-10) were Remi May and Bryson Laird, who each collected 15.
Melissa (7-7) trailed, 37-35, after a tight first half that saw eight ties and five lead changes — a half in which neither team could pull away by more than five points. But the Cards immediately opened things up after the halftime break and when the third-quarter run-and-gun dust had settled, Melissa led, 61-53.
Asked if a fast-break, transition-game approach is now favored by the Cards over a set offense, Benton said, “As the year has gone on a little bit, we’ve decided that we think we’re better in space, so we’re trying to find different ways to make sure that create that space for our guys. We really like to get them out in transition. Even in the half-court setting, we’re wanting to be more of an attack-type mindset, to play in space, be ready to get downhill.”
To recap the decisive third quarter: A Castleberry 3-pointer and back-to-back layups by freshman Brendon Lewis got the Cards rolling. Then Castleberry’s off-the-glass swisher pushed Melissa’s lead to 46-40 midway through the period, for the biggest margin by either team to that point. From there, the Cards drove Krum deeper into a hole. After two Holloway free-throws, Wood erupted for a steal and coast-to-coast layup and a deep-corner 3 to put Melissa up by 11. Wood also got up for a dunk on a first-half fast-break.
Cobbs, who drove the lane often for two points and/or a foul, hit a layup to give the Cards a 12-point bulge, 76-64, with about three minutes left to play — their biggest lead of the day. Holloway and Castleberry led Melissa in made-shots from beyond the 3-point arc, with two each.
On a tough note, Cards post player senior Gunnar Murphy went down with what appeared to be a left leg injury very late in the first half. His lay-up had just brought Melissa to within two points of the Bobcats when he hit the floor in obvious pain. After a brief on-court examination, Murphy was helped to the bench by teammates, putting no weight at all on his left leg. He was attended to court-side throughout halftime, with Melissa Boys Athletic Director Seth Stinton looking on. As the third quarter ended, Murphy left the gym on crutches and a wrapped left ankle. He did not return.
The Cards welcomed a new player to the roster this day – No. 32, Tre Homer, whom Benton noted had moved to Melissa in recent weeks. Homer tallied four points in his inaugural Cardinal stint.