ALLEN – The Melissa Cardinals made short order of Tatum’s Eagles on Tuesday, Dec. 27, romping to a 72-45 win at Ereckson Middle School. It was the Cards’ second victory in as many tries on day one of the In-N-Out Burger Allen Holiday Invitational. Freshman Brendon Lewis led Melissa with a game-high 19 points and newcomer junior Tre Homer posted 16 in his second game as a Cardinal. Junior Josh Wood followed with 13 points.
Everyone got in the game for Melissa this night, as head coach Eric Benton emptied his bench with 4:22 left to play and the Cardinals up, 68-36. Melissa worked the ball inside throughout the contest, feeding Homer and Wood under the basket with that extra pass.
“(Homer’s) been really good around the basket, and Josh Wood has done some good things for us around the rim,” Benton said. “That’s one thing that we’ve really been preaching all year long — getting paint-touches, whether that’s off post-feeds or dribble penetration or whatever it is. We want to play inside-out. I think we’re slowly but surely doing a better job each time we go out about getting those paint-touches and great things are starting to happen for us on those possessions.”
He said what made this game exciting was that it seemed to truly be a team effort.
“Without watching film, I think what I like is that every single person we put in the game did something productive to help us be successful,” Benton said. “That’s incredibly exciting when something like that happens, whether it was guys that played a couple of minutes here and there in the first half, or guys that came in at the end. Everybody was a positive contributor. And if we’re going to play with a little more tempo and all those things, that’s a big deal to be able to go to some of those guys off the bench and get some good stuff.”
The Cardinals (8-7) took charge of this one early, rolling to an 18-8 first-quarter lead, then pouring it on for a 43-19 halftime edge. Melissa’s full-court pressure kept Tatum off balance early. After sophomore Junior Castleberry buried a 3-pointer, his fast-break layup gave the Cardinals a 10-2 lead. Lewis came right back with a steal and a layup, followed by Wood’s 2 from close in, forcing an Eagles timeout, down 14-3. With a nice feed by Lewis, Homer extended Melissa’s lead to 16-4.
More Cardinal dominance followed in the second quarter, as Wood and Homer each had steals and found Lewis open under the basket for easy buckets. Lewis returned the favor later in the quarter, feeding Homer and Holloway for in-the-paint 2s.
In that second stanza, a Tatum player was called for technical foul for reportedly throwing an elbow while scuffling with Wood for a loose ball. Though Wood missed the associated free throws, Holloway swished home his two for a related foul, and Melissa led, 34-16. In the third quarter, back-to-back steals by Castleberry and Homer resulted in layups and a 58-28 Cardinals lead. In the fourth, successive stop-and-pop jumpers by Holloway and Castleberry helped ensure there would be no Eagles rally.
Melissa senior Gunnar Murphy, injured earlier versus Krum, did not suit up but was on the bench with an ankle-boot brace on his left foot and crutches nearby. Benton said Murphy’s status is “wait and see” for now and that his return cannot yet be accurately predicted.
With the win, the Cardinals advanced to the tournament semi-finals on Wednesday at Allen High School.