LEONARD — With tough full-court pressure and hot shooting, Whitewright knocked off the Anna Coyotes, 60-48, on Friday, Dec. 29, the third and final day of the Leonard Holiday Tournament. Jordan Meixelsperger led the Tigers with 21 points while Dylan Pitt fired for 17. Whitewright (6-10, 0-1 District 10-3A) led 32-22 at halftime and 43-33 after three quarters, after beating back a 9-0 Coyotes rally to open the second half.
“They shot the ball really well,” Anna head coach Kyle Phifer said of Tigers. “We went on a run there in the third and they responded. We did some things that allowed them to get that, but you’ve got to give them ‘hats-off.’ They shot it extremely well.” Phifer added that he’d like to have seen his team do a better job of attacking the press early on and then, down the stretch, get some stops. “You’ve got to get stops to get yourself back in the game. Every time we can get stops we’re able to run, we do some good stuff.”
Guard Noah Palshaw garnered a team-high 14 points for Anna (4-13) while fellow guard Emmonte Davis connected for 10.
“I believe the difference came down to the fact that our full-court pressure was effective enough to kind of get them out of their rhythm and we made some shots,” Whitewright head coach Phillip Dutton said. “We’re a dangerous team if we’re hitting shots.” Good size seemed to be an effective tool as well for the Tigers. “We’ve got some length — a little bit,” Dutton allowed. “We’re not long long, but for our level we’ve got a little bit of length.”
The game was a reunion of sorts as it marked the first time these schools had played since Phifer departed Whitewright for Anna in 2016. Phifer was head coach of the Tigers for two seasons, leading them to a 53-14 record with a trip the regional tournament.
“It was good seeing those kids,” he said, noting that Tigers Pitt and Will Stephens were sophomores on varsity during his final season there, and Seth Jackson was a varsity freshman. “It’s cool to see them grow up.”
Dutton said his players were certainly aware of taking on their former coach this day. “They were all talking about it before the game. Coach Phifer is a good coach and they all liked him really well. So that made it a little interesting … but we never one time mentioned in the meeting that we were out here to beat Coach Phifer. We just wanted to win the game.”
Down, 17-12, to open the second quarter, Anna fought back to tie it on Josh O’Bier’s 3 and Davis’ running jumper in the lane off a Gavin Reno assist. Three minutes before the break, the Coyotes briefly took the lead, 22-21, on Hunter Lebo’s trey from the right corner but the Tigers quickly regained control with three buckets and a big 3 from the top of the key.
The Coyotes’ big push to open the third quarter began with a put-back layup from Jaedin Victorian and his two free throws. Davis followed with a 3 from the left side and Palshaw’s short shot off the glass made it 32-31, Whitewright. But after two free throws by the Tigers’ Jackson, Whitewright put down Anna’s comeback with three straight daggers from beyond the arc.
The Tigers pushed their lead to 14 three times in the fourth stanza before getting it to 52-37 midway through the frame. With about three minutes left, Dutton was tagged with a technical foul, apparently for something said to an official. Palshaw, who’d just been fouled, received four shots from the charity stripe and hit three to pull the Coyotes to within 10.
After a Meixelsperger layup answered for the Tigers, Davis bombed one from downtown and Whitewright’s advantage was 54-45. Then down, 55-45, Reno’s deep 3 from the left side cut the lead to seven with just over a minute remaining but, from there, the Tigers closed it out with a pair of free throws and a trey from the corner.
Anna finished the tourney with a 1-2 mark.
Anna scorers: Noah Palshaw 14, Emmonte Davis 10, Gavin Reno 7, Josh O’Bier 7, Jaedin Victorian 4, Hunter Lebo 3, Micah Cotton 3.