ANNA — Maybe some Melissa fans got the feeling this would not turn out well when Anna’s senior Keamoni Mattocks pulled up five feet beyond the 3-point arc and jacked in a rainbow as the halftime buzzer sounded to give the Coyotes their first lead of the night, 35-34.
Those that did were prescient. Anna went on to defeat the Cardinals, 59-53, at Anna High School on Friday, Jan. 20, after trailing 18-14 after one quarter and 28-21 in the second. Mattocks led the Coyotes’ comeback, finishing with a game-high 21 points as teammate and senior Elijah Smith added 18 to the cause. Junior Tre Homer’s 19 points for Melissa were the team’s high total, with sophomore Matt Holloway chipping in 10.
Anna’s district mark moved to 2-1 with the victory as the Cardinals fell to 1-2.
“It’s big,” Coyotes head coach Kyle Phifer said of his charges’ win. “You hope you get some momentum coming around. The loss to Aubrey (on Jan. 13), it was tough on us. The kids responded well and they were excited for this one, obviously, with Melissa being right down the road and the rivalry that it is. But I felt like they came out and responded and executed, especially in the second half.”
When asked about the turnaroud, Phifer credited it to his team settling in.
“The first quarter, especially the first five minutes, I felt like we weren’t communicating, we weren’t playing defense like we’re capable of,” he said. “I felt like we were waiting on them, instead of attacking them. And they got some easy buckets off of that.”
Melissa head coach Eric Benton said his team did well and performed.
“I thought we made enough plays to win the game,” Benton said. “I thought they made plays to win the game. Keamoni got hot in the second quarter and made a couple of really tough jumpers that we made him take. I thought we defended him really well and made him make plays. He’s really good, so he’s going to make plays.”
He said although the Cardinals didn’t come out with the win, his team played how he wanted them to.
“It’s disappointing because of the outcome, but ultimately that’s really how I feel,” Benton said. “We made enough plays to win the game, and they just made a couple more plays — in big moments too. … Just two fairly evenly-matched basketball teams, kind of duking it out.”
Senior Lawrence Goade opened the fourth stanza with consecutive 2-point shots that pushed the Coyotes’ lead to 48-39. With under four minutes left to play, a steal and coast-to-coast layup by Smith extended Anna’s margin to 10. Freshman Kaedric Cobbs’s 3 gave Melissa life at 53-45 with 2:32 remaining. The Cardinals trailed, 55-50, with under a minute left to play after junior Cameron Withers buried a 3 for Melissa from the corner. Anna free throws pushed the lead back to 58-50, before Homer hit a 3 with 12 seconds left — but the Cardinals would get no closer.
In an odd third quarter, both team remained scoreless until over halfway through the frame. With two minutes left, one point had been scored — a free throw by Melissa’s sophomore Junior Castleberry that tied the game at 35-all.
“I guess both teams decided to play defense,” Phifer laughed. “No, I felt like we were getting some looks — we weren’t finishing. They were getting looks — they weren’t finishing. You knew once one team hit a shot they would settle in, and luckily it was us.”
Benton agreed that the game slowed down after halftime.
“I think both of us probably, at halftime, preached a lot about getting down and guarding,” he said. “The pace slowed down a little bit. It kind of became more of a grind-it-out type of game instead of some of the tempo of the games we’ve played lately. I think it was just two teams trying to make each other work really, really hard to score.”
Things opened up over the third frame’s final moments, with Castleberry breaking the tie he set with a corner 3, followed by senior Daunte Rose’s layup that pulled the Coyotes back to within one. A Mattocks jumper from the lane gave Anna the lead again, at 39-38, followed by sophomore Emmonte Davis’ big 3 that established a four-point Coyotes lead. After a Castleberry free throw, Rose pushed Anna’s advantage to five with a put-back layup and, as the quarter ended, Mattocks was calling for more noise from Anna’s raucous student section behind the gym’s west-end basket.
Melissa seemed in control early on, with Homer romping for nine first-quarter points. In the second, Anna clawed back to tie it at 21 on Smith’s coast-to-coast drive for a layup. The Cardinals answered with a 7-0 run ignited by a 3 from sophomore Kennedy Lewis to lead, 28-21. Smith then put in back-to-back layups for the Coyotes, one off a steal, and hit a jumper. With Anna trailing, 31-27, Mattocks sank a top-of-the-key 3, but Holloway answered with a 3 of his own from the corner. Two Mattocks free throws brought the Coyotes to within 34-32, and the stage was set for that long-range, end-of-the-half swisher.
“Huge,” Phifer said of the shot. “He’s a big-time player and big-time players make big-time plays.”