Disappointment set in soon after the final buzzer Friday night in George W. Solis Gymnasium, but not because of the play by either Waxahachie or Midlothian on the basketball court. Instead, it surfaced because the game had to end and someone had to lose.
The Runnin' Indians weathered a late Panther charge to hold onto the win, 79-67, in front of a near-capacity crowd. The win moved TABC 5A No. 2 Waxahachie to 16-4 on the season and 3-0 in district play, while the loss dropped No. 11 Midlothian to 15-7 and 1-2 in the district.
The Runnin' Indians, led by Larry Wise with 24 points and four rebounds and Tre Gipson's 23 points and seven rebounds, jumped out early on the Panthers. Waxahachie used its active full-court press to force several Midlothian turnovers in the first half and hold a 35-25 lead at the break.
The Tribe then built a lead as large as 18 points in the second half before the Panthers outscored the Runnin' Indians 30-26 in the fourth quarter.
After the game, Waxahachie head boys' basketball coach Greg Gober applauded his team for their overall effort. He then explained that the Runnin' Indians need to do a better job from the free throw line and in transition defense down the stretch as they move forward.
“We started off playing like we know we are capable of playing and playing with a lot of energy. We just have to maintain that and continue to finish games," Gober said. "We have finished a lot of games, so it’s not like we don’t know how to finish. We have come from behind in a lot of games, so we know what we are supposed to do. When you get an 18-point lead and opportunities to advance it, you need to advance it."
Gober also credited the high-energy play of Demani Richardson and Tevin Wofford to the success of the Waxahachie press, especially early.
“We got back into the energy part of our game. Demani Richardson and Tevin Wofford at the top did a really good job," the head coach said. "The first half we had to fight through adversity with JT (Warren) having those two fouls in the first couple minutes into the game. It was just about energy. Playing the way we know how to play and doing what we are supposed to do.”
Larry Wise scored six of the Runnin' Indians' first 10 points for an early 10-6 lead during a five-minute stretch with more traveling calls than made baskets.
The hot streak would not be the last one for Wise on the evening. He scored eight consecutive points late in the second half, too.
Gober said he thought, "Larry did a good job of being very assertive and aggressive. He was really demanding that he was going to be a really good player tonight and that he wasn’t going to settle for going through the motions. He was demanding that he was going to be a good player.”
About one minute of game time later, Qua Grant got an acrobatic floater to kiss off the glass for two. Mekai Pope then drilled a contested three-pointer for a 16-6 Waxahachie lead.
Midlothian closed the gap to eight after Kaden Archie pinned a Pope layup to the glass and got the outlet pass back down the court. Swahn Gibson drew a foul on the fast break and converted on both free throws.
On the ensuing Waxahachie trip down the court and with under 20 seconds to play, Tre Gipson drove the baseline for two points. The bucket resulted in a 10-point Runnin' Indian lead after one quarter, 20-10.
Evan Marshall started the second quarter for the Panthers with a corner three, but Grant answered with five consecutive points for the Tribe. His layup with 6:07 to play put Waxahachie up 25-13 and forced a Midlothian timeout.
The half ended with the Runnin' Indians leading 35-25.
Marshall led the Panthers offense at the break after scoring 11 of his 13 points in the second quarter. Waxahachie was paced by Gipson, Grant, and Wise with 10 points, each.
An offensive rebound by Wise led to a successful and-one and opened up a 17-point Waxahachie lead, 44-27, with 5:11 to play in the third quarter.
A little later in the frame, Gipson drilled a transition three-pointer, and Wise followed with a crafty layup after a Midlothian turnover for a 49-31 Waxahachie lead with under 3:30 to go in the third quarter.
The lead again grew to 18 points, 53-35, after JT Warren made a perfect trip to the line with 32 seconds left on the third-quarter clock.
Midlothian split a pair of trips to the charity stripe to close the third quarter down 53-37.
Waxahachie entered the bonus 17 seconds into the fourth quarter and the Panthers did the same shortly after. Free throws were oddly enough the highlight of the final quarter.
Midlothian hit a hot stretch from the stripe, going 8-of-11 from the free throw line down the stretch, to help battle back to within nine points, 70-61. The last of those came after Archie's perfect trip to the line with 1:48 to play.
Marshall then drilled a three to inch the Panthers closer, 71-64, but Waxahachie ran off four quick points courtesy of turnovers forced by its full-court press.
The Runnin' Indians held on to avoid the home upset, 79-67.
Following the game, Wise pointed to the jampacked Waxahachie side of the stands as being a huge morale boost for the Runnin' Indians down the stretch in the rivalry game.
“It was really fun and I liked that our fans were able to come out and support us. I’m glad that we had a good number of people that showed us some love and I thought that really helped us out as far as energy on the court," Wise said.
“They [Midlothian] are definitely a great team, and this was definitely a good learning experience," Wise added. "Down the stretch, we have to make more shots so we can seal the deal because they almost got us there. That is a tough team, and we still got to learn and grow even though we are having a lot of fun.”
Midlothian head basketball coach Steven Middleton thought his team competed well but said the Panthers could not continue the trend that dates back to last season of falling behind by 20-plus points early on against Waxahachie.
“We competed, and we didn’t give up, so I am certainly proud of that. You can’t get down and weather the storm like a 20-point lead, just like last year, and expect to come back and beat a really good team," Middleton said. "It has to be a close ballgame, and they can’t get that kind of spread upon us. But then when we get desperate and play really, really hard — that’s how you have to start. You can’t wait until you get down by 20 and then give up the incredible effort. You have to give up the incredible effort to start."
Middleton added, “We gave away the Mansfield Timberview game but this game we got beat. Now, we can’t let this continue. We have to get Lake Ridge on Tuesday. Before we can start moving forward in any way, shape or form, this puts us at 1-2 in the district, we have to stop the bleeding. Point blank. We have to reel some games off and make our mark climbing back into the district race.”
Kaden Archie led the Panthers with 22 points on the evening, while Caleb Jordan added 21 and Evan Marshall finished with 16. Swahn Gibson scored eight points to round out the Midlothian offensive output.
In addition to Wise's 25 points and Gipson's 23, Qua Grant scored 13 on 5-of-6 shooting from the floor and pulled down seven boards. JT Warren added 11 points and three rebounds. Mekai Pope finished with three points, while Wofford and Richardson both scored two points, each. The Runnin' Indians collected 10 steals as a team.
Waxahachie travels to Mansfield Legacy for an 8 p.m. tip Tuesday, Jan. 9. Midlothian will hope to right-the-ship Tuesday at home against Mansfield Lake Ridge at 8 p.m.
Gober said his team will approach Tuesday's game just as they will every game for the rest of the season — as a need-to-win ballgame.
“It wouldn’t matter if you beat the worst team in the district or the best team in the district, every game counts the same," Gober explained. "We just need to keep counting them and we need to keep winning. That’s what we have to focus on. We have to get a win against our next opponent, and that’s Legacy, and let everyone else do what they are doing.”