MELISSA – Coming off their first two losses of the season, Melissa bounced back from an early 10-0 deficit to take down North Lamar, 60-55, on Dec. 11 at Melissa Middle School. The Cards followed that on Friday with an 81-50 shellacking of Class 5A Sherman, a team that had defeated them six days prior.


Versus North Lamar, guard Kenneth Castleberry Jr. rolled to a team-high 15 points for Melissa (11-2) and fellow guard Mark Fisher tallied 14, all in the second half. Included in Fisher’s total were four 3-pointers – three in the third quarter as the Cards surged to their first lead of the game, 39-38. Guard Ezra Monroe added two treys in that stanza as well and Castleberry sank another.


Monroe and guard Matt Holloway were also among Melissa’s shooting leaders with 12 and 10 points, respectively. Jay Walter’s 20 points, including three treys in the final stanza, led North Lamar.


Things got a bit chippy in that fourth quarter – as in, one Panther charged Melissa’s Ricky Morning after said Panther’s face allegedly came in contact with one of Morning’s elbows under the basket – but more on that later.


“I think we were a little shell-shocked,” Melissa head coach Eric Benton said of being down by double-digits before anyone’s chips and queso had cooled. “I don’ think we came out flat. I think they just got a couple of transition ones early, hit a couple of shots, and it hit us pretty fast. Then we had to spend the next, whatever it was, 31 minutes digging ourselves out of the hole. … We were able to regroup, talk about a couple of things at halftime and we came out with a little bit more life, more energy. We tried to pick up the pressure and went to a little man-to-man [defense] in the second half. And obviously, when we started making some shots the vibe changes.”


Indeed, once Melissa’s shooters got untracked, the writing was on the backboard – these Cards weren’t losing a third-straight game.


In the first quarter, the Panthers got to 12-1 before Melissa’s shots starting finding net. A Castleberry right-side trey cut the margin to 12-6 and Monroe’s layup off an Avery Fuller steal got it to 14-11, capping an 11-4 Cards run. After a Morning layup in the lane, North Lamar drained a 3 to push the lead back to four as the stanza ended.


Melissa hit one field goal in the second quarter but the Panthers managed just one as well. Ultimately, North Lamar prevailed through the malaise, 5-3, for a 22-16 advantage by halftime.


Things heated up after the break with Castleberry quickly burying a right-corner 3 and the Panthers striking back with two quick buckets for a 26-19 lead. Monroe came back with consecutive 3-pointers and Melissa trailed by one. North Lamar surged ahead by six again, 32-26, halfway through the frame but Fisher soon called shooting class to order.


His first 3-pointer made it 34-31, Panthers; his second, 38-35. Moments later, with under a minute left in the third, Fisher set up closer to mid-court than the 3-point arc and burned the net for three more – and was fouled. He sank the free throw and Melissa led for the first time, 39-38. North Lamar regained the lead by one as the stanza drew to a close.


Leading off the fourth, the Panthers popped a 3 and Fisher answered with his fourth bucket from downtown. North Lamar’s Walters was then fouled shooting a trey and made all three charity-stripe shots for a 46-42 Panthers edge. Another 3 had North Lamar up, 49-45, with four minutes left to play – then a perhaps decisive episode unfolded.


Castleberry floated the lane for 2 and was fouled. As the play ended, Panthers big man Cody Anthony reportedly swung at Morning then charged after him as a ref intervened. Anthony received a technical foul for his effort and was soon invited to leave the court. North Lamar coach Homer Garner complained that Anthony had been ‘bowed in the head – to no avail. Castleberry sank his free throw and Melissa trailed, 49-48. Holloway came on for the “T” shots and made both for a 50-49 Cards lead with 3:25 left to play.


The lead see-sawed twice more before two Castleberry free throws gave Melissa its biggest lead in the game to that point, 54-51, with under two minutes left. A Panthers layup cut it to one but Morning’s put-back had the Cards up, 56-53, with less than 50 seconds remaining. North Lamar answered again with a layup and called timeout. Out of the break, Melissa’s inbounds pass sailed out of bounds and the Panthers had life with 35 seconds to go. But their shot for the lead was off and Holloway nabbed the rebound and was fouled. Holloway swished both shots from the line and, after another North Lamar miss, Castleberry added two more free throws for the five-point victory.


“It was definitely good to get the win,” Benton said. “I thought there were a lot of things that happened in our two [Highway 5] games on Saturday that were kind of anomalies. I didn’t think we looked like ourselves, offensively - especially in that second game. Today I just wanted to make sure we got back to looking like I think we should look. … As the game went on, the ball started moving better, we starting making shots and we got some inside touches for our bigs.”


Versus Sherman at home on Friday, the Cards looked even more like themselves in cruising to a 31-point victory as Holloway blew up for a game-high 22 points. Monroe was next with 15 points and Morning added 14. Fisher sank three 3-pointers, all in the first half, and Holloway and Castleberry each logged two treys. Mason Gabriel’s 13 points were tops for Sherman. The Cards opened up a 22-7 lead after one quarter and were never threatened.


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North Lamar 17 5 18 15 - 55


Melissa 13 3 23 21 - 60


Melissa scoring – Kenneth Castleberry Jr. 15, Mark Fisher 14, Ezra Monroe 12, Matt Holloway 10, Ricky Morning 7, Avery Fuller 2.


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Sherman 7 12 12 19 - 50


Melissa 22 16 17 26 - 81


Melissa scoring – Matt Holloway 22, Ezra Monroe 15, Ricky Morning 12, Mark Fisher 9, Kenneth Castleberry Jr. 6, Avery Fuller 6, Phoenix Bramhall 4, Hunter Sparks 4, Dylan Fortenberry 3.