ALLEN — In these teams’ final game at the Allen Eagles Holiday Invitational tournament on Saturday, Dec. 30, Van Alstyne stormed to a 21-point lead over Melissa then cruised home, 76-67, behind a 27-point outing by sophomore Samuel Tormos and an attacking, run-and-gun style — especially early on.
Three other Van Alstyne shooters finished in double-digit points this day, including Tyler Sperry with 14, Noah Boling with 12 and Jackson Rogers with 11. Guards Matt Holloway and Junior Castleberry led Melissa scorers with 19 and 17 points, respectively.
Van Alstyne won the rebound battle, 41-29, with a 34-20 edge on defensive boards.
The Panthers led, 42-33, at halftime and the teams eventually played to a second-half draw. Melissa had chances to close the deficit, but too many Cardinal shots rolled in-and-out and the Panthers often followed with a momentum-killing bucket.
“We had a really, really good first quarter,” Van Alstyne head coach Russell Best said. “The bench kids that came in helped out. That’s probably one of the better quarters we’ve put together. And that first half, the effort we played with, that’s what we’re looking for all the time.
“They get after you on defense,” Best said of the Cards. “We knew we had to take care of the basketball. And they drive it really well. They’ve got a couple of shooters but we felt like we had to protect the paint first. And they missed a lot of shots. They got there and just kind of missed them. That helped us out. But they do a really good job of putting it on the floor and getting places.”
Benton said his team came out with a lot of energy but, “We had that stretch starting the game where I think we were so worried about trying to pressure them in the full court that we weren’t very good taking care of the basket first.” Asked what Van Alstyne does well, Benton said, “They put multiple guys one the floor — a lot of times all five guys — that can really handle it and really pass it and score. Once they get those opportunities in the open floor — it doesn’t necessarily matter who’s passing it to whom — they’re going to make good things happen. Everybody is a threat, offensively. Once they put you behind the basketball, they do a really job of making you pay.”
This matchup was for fifth place in the tournament’s 16-team Class 4A-3A division. Both teams finished tourney play with 2-2 marks. The Class 3A Panthers also defeated Whitesboro, with losses to Crandall and Princeton, while Melissa prevailed over Mabank and Lorena and fell to Krum.
After two early ties, Van Alstyne took a 13-7 first-quarter separation on Tommy Leutwyler’s 3 from the left corner. Melissa’s Ricky Morning answered with a trey of his own, but soon Tormos took a pass inside for 2 then buried a 3 from the corner and the Panthers were up, 23-13, with 1:30 left in the frame.
As the first stanza ended, Castleberry was fouled putting up a 3 and drained all three shots from the charity stripe to draw Melissa to within 27-19.
A 9-0 Panther run started the second quarter, sparked by Tyler Sperry’s 3 and layup buckets from Tormos and Tommy Leutwyler. Van Alstyne’s advantage had swelled to 38-20 when Tormos banged home a 3 and a rout looked likely. But then, trailing 42-22 less than three minutes before the break, the Cards came alive — and the Panthers went scoreless the rest of the half.
Benton said that 11-0 Melissa run to close out the first half came down to two things: “We took away (their) transition and we guarded the basketball better. I thought it was as simple as that. When we’re good in transition-defense and we’re good on the ball, good things happen.”
In the third quarter, Van Alstyne overcame a couple of early turnovers to gain a 14-point edge, 57-43, on Jackson Rogers’ 3 from the corner. The lead had grown to 60-45 when Castleberry posted two layups that cut the margin to 11, the second on a coast-to-coast drive at the buzzer.
Holloway hit 10 points in the final frame but the Cards were unable to get closer than eight the rest of the way. Melissa guard Chase Mapps sent home a 3 as the game ended.
Back for this game were Cardinal guards Brendon Lewis and BJ Lewis who had been away with family for the team’s first three games at Allen. Both started, along with Castleberry, Holloway and Wood.
Melissa scorers: Matt Holloway 19, Junior Castleberry 17, Josh Wood 8, Ricky Morning 5, Brendon Lewis 5, Cole McCraw 5, Ezra Monroe 2, BJ Lewis 1.