PRINCETON — After three quarters of pitched battle, the Anna Coyotes powered past Princeton's Panthers to take a 60-48 victory – and the District 11-4A championship. With their shots not falling quite as easily this night, especially in the first half, a gutty finish was required of the Coyotes, and they responded.
Princeton (4-5) led, 25-24, at halftime and after three stanzas still seemed poised to ruin any hopes Anna had of celebrating a district title in this venue. But Anna (8-1) rose up in the fourth and simply took the game from the Panthers, doubling them up, 16-7, for the win.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Coyotes rejoiced on-court as Taylor Swift's “Shake It Off” blared from the PA system — perhaps for the Panthers. Whomever it was for, Anna's senior Elijah Smith took advantage of the moment to show off some nimble dance moves.
“Coming over to Princeton, we knew it was going to be really tough, especially on their Senior Night,” Anna head coach Kyle Phifer said. “They have seven seniors and those kids have been through a lot of games. It feels really good. That was one of our goals coming into the year, a district championship, so I'm proud for the kids.”
Senior Keamoni Mattocks led the Coyotes with a game-high 20 points, as teammates senior Dillon Lewis and Smith added 11 and 10 points, respectively. Stevan Molina's 12 points led the way for the Panthers.
Anna's move to dominate began as time expired in the third period when Mattocks juked and reversed his way for a jumper in the lane to give the Coyotes a 44-41 lead. Minutes later, Smith canned a deep-corner 3 to push the lead to six, 51-46, and the game seemed to turn. Sensing what was coming, Princeton called timeout to break the Coyotes' momentum, but to no avail. From there, Anna ground down the Panthers from the line, sinking nine of 11 free throws as Princeton answered with three.
“I don't think we've done a great job all year finishing games,” Phifer said. “We talked about that. We've had 9-, 10-point leads and then we've made it close. So we really talked about just getting a stop and a basket, a stop and a basket. And they did that. We knew when it was a three(-point lead), if we could get a couple of scores, then we could pull it out. … The kids executed, they got stops at the end. They played extremely hard, they made some plays.”
Anna struggled some in the first half with 3-pointers and free throws - and also left a couple of layups off the mark – but Phifer said he felt like the shooting would recover.
“I know a couple of our kids — all it takes is one shot,” he said. “They just had to see it go in one time, whether it be a free throw, a layup, whatever it is. And we were fortunate enough, we a couple hit those and were able to go on some runs.”
The first quarter saw four lead changes and two ties before Anna pushed to a 15-10 advantage on senior Donald Maloid's 3 late in the period. Smith pushed the lead to 19-12 on a layup, then a steal and coast-to-coast drive for 2. But instead of fading, Princeton fought back. With three minutes left before the break, Kai Brinkerhoff's corner-3 moved the Panthers to within 21-18 and another 3 by Daeshon Jones brought the Panthers to within one, at 24-23. Molina's layup then boosted Princeton into the lead for halftime.
In third quarter, the Panthers pushed their advantage to 28-24 before Mattocks' steal and court-length drive tied the game at 28. Two more ties and seven more lead changes had occurred when senior Lawrence Goade's 3 gave Anna the lead for good, 42-41, with under a minute left in the third quarter, setting the stage for the Coyotes' strong finish.