The near-sellout crowd inside Panther Arena was treated to yet another doozy Tuesday night between rivals and state-ranked Waxahachie and Midlothian.
And the Runnin' Indians again found a way late against neighboring (19-10, 5-5) No. 13 Midlothian, outscoring the Panthers by six points in the fourth quarter of the 55-51 win.
The victory officially clinched a playoff berth for No. 1 (23-4, 10-0) Waxahachie. A feat that Waxahachie head boys' basketball coach Greg Gober humbly admitted he was not aware had happened.
“I really don’t know about the (playoff) spots and stuff. That kind of stuff I really don’t know," Gober said. "I am just proud of our team because when someone who is as capable as Qua (Grant) is out, they immediately start thinking their chances are slim. We just figured out that we have to find a way to get it done.”
With Waxahachie guard and scoring threat, Qua Grant, out due to an ankle injury, Tre Gipson and Larry Wise stepped up to more than just fill the role — the two took over. Gipson and Wise combined for 45 of the Tribe’s 55 points.
"We told them before the game that we didn’t need any superstar performance but that we just needed them to be their best," Gober said. "If they played their best then good things would happen. They both stepped up and got it done. Everybody on the team contributed with the rebounds, blocked shots, and extra plays. I think all of us stepped up to make this happen.”
Had it only of lasted seven minutes, Kaden Archie would've outscored Waxahachie in the first quarter by himself.
Larry Wise then drilled a corner three, got a floater to fall and Tre Gipson countered a Caleb Jordan triple with a floater at the buzzer to send the Runnin' Indians into the second quarter down just three, 15-12.
It took two and a half minutes of game time for Wise to get a reserve to fall for the first Waxahachie lead, 17-15.
Caleb Jordan wasted no time in tilting the score back in the Panthers' favor. The senior drilled a deep, contested three-pointer in transition to put Midlothian back on top, 18-17.
Though there were a few dunks and contested jumpers made over the ensuing 16 minutes of game time, Midlothian carried that same two-point lead, 40-38, into the fourth quarter.
Waxahachie led 52-49 with 16.9 seconds left and 53-49 after a made free throw. Kaden Archie then drove the length of the court for a layup over a pair of Runnin' Indian defenders to pull Midlothian within two, 53-51. The bucket matched Waxahachie's Gipson for a then-game-high 23 points.
Jordan was called for a dead-ball foul on Gipson with 7.4 seconds to play after the Waxahachie inbound was deflected out of bounds in front of the Runnin' Indian bench.
The senior point guard hit nothing but the bottom of the net — twice.
Waxahachie held on for the win to remain unbeaten in District 10-5A, 55-51.
“The thing about it is, the kids have to continue to fight through adversity, and that is what they do,” Gober said. “They continue to find a way to make it happen. They believe in themselves, and they believe in what we are doing, and great things happen when we are able to do that.”
Gipson finished with 25 points, and Wise netted 20. The two combined for 15 of the Runnin' Indians' 17 fourth-quarter points.
Mekai Pope added six points on a pair of treys and JT Warren scored four, all coming in the second half.
Kaden Archie scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Panthers.
After the game, Midlothian head boys' basketball coach Steven Middleton said, “Archie played really well, and I thought he played really effective basketball. He led us and played really, really well. He is playing at a really high level right now, and we are going to need that moving forward.”
Caleb Jordan added nine points to Archie's team-high 23 and Evan Marshall scored eight.
Swahn Gibson chipped in six points, Zeke' Bennett had three, and Jon McDonald scored two.
“We did play hard. We just didn’t finish the game. I don’t know how many turnovers we had, but I know we had 10 at halftime,” Middleton said. “I thought we managed the game better, but we had several times when we had open shots from the corners for our two seniors, and we didn’t make any of them. But the opportunity for them was there. Players got to make plays.”
The Panthers return to the home court Friday to face Mansfield Lake Ridge, while the Runnin' Indians face Mansfield Legacy at George W. Solis Gymnasium in Waxahachie.
For Midlothian, Middleton has already labeled the game as a "must win."
“This puts Friday as a must-win against Lake Ridge, basically. We can’t look past that. It has to be a must-win situation, and we have to play really well to beat them," he explained. "Everything now is about making playoffs. Period.”
Tipoff is at 8 p.m.