ANNA – Anna’s Coyotes used a big third quarter on Tuesday, Jan. 24, to take charge of the Princeton Panthers — and, for now, the district race. With their 52-47 win — after a furious Princeton rally — the Coyotes’ league record moved to 3-1, tops in District 11-4A after Celina’s coinciding loss to Aubrey.

“They turned it up a notch,” Anna head coach Kyle Phifer said of his team’s 14-3 run to open the second half. “I felt like in the first half, we were playing hard, we just weren’t finishing. In the second half, I thought our defense led to our offense. It got us on a run, and we started hitting some shots. I thought our defense really stepped up in the second half.”

Still, the game was up for grabs late in the fourth quarter. As the frame began, the Coyotes looked to be in control at 36-27. And when senior Forest Durrett took the baseline for a layup with six minutes left, Anna seemed safe, 40-29. But Princeton kept chipping away: A Panther three from the corner cut the Coyotes’ lead to six points and twice, with less than a minute left, Anna’s lead was whittled to two.

Over those tense final moments, it was senior Keamoni Mattocks, the district’s two-time MVP, who sealed the deal for Anna with six dead-eye swishes from the free-throw stripe. He also pushed a slick feed to senior Daunte Rose for a critical layup and a 48-44 Coyote lead.

“Six-for-six on free throws in the fourth,” Phifer noted of Mattocks. “He’s just a gamer. He didn’t even shoot the ball well (from the field), but he still controlled the game. … Last year, I think he was a shooter, but this year I feel like he’s a complete player.”

Anna’s senior Elijah Smith and Mattocks led Anna’s charge this night, with 16 and 15 points, respectively. Princeton big man Bradley Torres tallied a team-high 15 points and his baseline move for a dunk to end the first half gave the Panthers their first lead of the night, at 20-19. But that turned out to be Princeton’s only lead of the night — and it lasted only seconds into the third frame.

To open the second half, a Smith free throw tied the game. When his next attempt missed, Durrett grabbed the rebound and senior Dillon Lewis’ put-back moved Anna back into the lead, 22-20. Smith then grabbed a steal for a layup and, with less than a minute gone in the second half, the Coyotes led, 24-20. Smith wasn’t done. After a smooth give-and-go assist for a Mattocks layup, he tallied another steal and a layup to move Anna’s advantage to 30-22.

“He was flying around,” Phifer said of Smith. “He’s so explosive. He was playing extremely hard and those were some big-time plays that he was making.”

A Mattocks three off the glass completed the Coyotes’ 14-3 run with Anna up, 33-23. Senior Lawrence Goade’s big 3-pointer closed out the quarter for the Coyotes.

The first half was a toe-to-toe slugfest, with neither team able shake the other. Anna, though, never trailed over those opening quarters, which saw three ties. The Coyotes jumped out, 4-0, before getting knotted at 6-all on a Torres layup. They were tied again at 8 before the first frame ended at 10-10. To open the second stanza, Durrett kissed a deep shot off the glass for three and Smith nabbed a steal in Princeton’s end for a layup and was fouled. Smith’s free throw pushed the Coyotes’ margin to 16-10 but the Panthers would recover before halftime.