ALLEN — Some team-pairs just can’t help playing Instant Classics. That appears to be the case with Melissa’s Cardinals and Mabank’s Panthers, who met for the second time in nine days on Thursday, Dec. 28, in the first round of the Allen Eagles Holiday Invitational basketball tournament.
And for the second time in nine days the Cards prevailed by skin of their beaks, this time via a comeback from 10 points down with three minutes left to play. It was senior Josh Wood who capped the rally with a put-back tip-in a nanosecond before the buzzer sounded for the 59-57 victory. Wood’s game-winner came after two other close-in Melissa shots wouldn’t fall as the final frenzied three seconds ticked off.
On Dec. 19, the Cards (6-8) defeated Class 4A Mabank, 59-58, at home. Though the point totals and winning margin were nearly identical this time, how the teams got there at Allen was quite different. At Melissa, the Panthers battled back from eight down after three quarters and fell short. Here, Melissa was in a much later jam - and answered the call.
“I think it all got sparked because we finally defended well,” Cards head coach Eric Benton said after the most recent win. “Maybe that’s how long it took to get the rust off from the [holiday] break, I don’t know. … We’ve got to be able to defend for 32 minutes the way we did in the fourth quarter. Then we’ve got a chance to be OK. I really thought that was the difference. We defended at a higher level, then made some plays.”
This day, the Panthers (8-11) clearly intended to take away Melissa sharpshooting guard Matt Holloway who had previously burned them for 20 points — and for much of the game they did. Benton noted, though, that the attention paid Holloway helped space the floor for Melissa’s offense, creating driving lanes for Chase Mapps and others, and dump-off opportunities to Cole McCraw. “That’s what (Holloway) and I talked about at one point,” Benton said. “He needed to be willing to be that person that helped space the floor. He was going to help create things for others and I think that’s part of why we got driving lanes.”
Still, Holloway managed 11 points, including a giant, straight-on deep 3 that drew Melissa to within 55-53 with 1:30 left to play.
“If he was going to hit one,” Benton said, “that was a good time to do it.”
Junior Castleberry led Melissa scorers with 15 points while Wood tallied 10 and crashed the boards for a team-high 15 rebounds. Overall, the Cards outrebounded Mabank, 33-27, with a 17-8 advantage on the offensive end. While the Panthers outshot Melissa 51-41 percent, they committed 19 turnovers to the Cards’ 13.
Trailing late, 54-44, layups by Mark Fisher and McCraw got Melissa’s rally started. Other big moments down the stretch included: McCraw’s offensive rebound and pass to Holloway who banked in a layup that cut Mabank’s lead to 54-50; a trap near midcourt by McCraw and Ezra Monroe that stole a Panther possession with two minutes left and the Cards still down by four; Wood’s driving layup that tied it at 57 with 40 seconds left.
Melissa led, 11-10, after one frame and soon pushed its advantage to 19-10 on a Castleberry 3, Mapps’ driving layup and his coast-to-coast steal and drive for two plus a free throw. The Panthers clawed back with six straight points to trail, 21-18 - a run ended by Monroe’s finger-roll bucket from the lane. A Mabank 3 closed the Cards’ gap to 23-22 before two Panther free throws put them on top, 24-23, in the first half’s final minute. By the break, Mabank led, 27-25, and Melissa’s deficit would be five after three quarters. In that third frame, the Panthers’ lead reached eight points before Wood’s layup off a Mapps inbounds pass and Castleberry’s reverse layup kept the Cards close.
This game marked the first appearance of new Melissa big Ricky Morning, a junior transfer from McKinney Boyd. In limited minutes, Morning scored four points and collected a steal. Also, Cardinal guards Brendon Lewis and BJ Lewis missed this contest due to a family trip out of state.
Melissa scorers: Junior Castleberry 15, Matt Holloway 11, Josh Wood 10, Cole McCraw 6, Chase Mapps 6, Ricky Morning 4, Hunter Sparks 3, Ezra Monroe 2, Mark Fisher 2.