MIDLOTHIAN — While one team climbed the District 10-5A rankings, another came within eight minutes of putting four quarters of basketball together.
The Panthers turned a three-point first-half lead deficit into a 65-50 loss to Waxahachie High School after being bitten by the turnover bug on Saturday at Midlothian High School Arena.
"It was turnovers, man. Turnovers. I think our starting backcourt had 15 or 16 turnovers themselves," said Steve Middleton, the MHS head boy's basketball coach. "That's the game. You have to give them credit for the way they played but I choose to focus on us and what we could have done better to win. Other things — soft passes, not seeing the court and not making the necessary basketball plays when you get in position to score — didn't help, but you can't beat a team like Waxahachie when you're turning the ball over at that rate. It wasn't ancillary players or role players, either. It's your main guys and starters. The responsibility of ball handling and ball protection is on them. We just have to be better."
The Panthers committed 21 turnovers — nine by Kaden Archie and six by Caleb Jordan — during the rivalry matchup. They were also outrebounded 35-24 by Waxahachie despite their 6-foot-8 power forward Vincent Lee tying the game-high with eight rebounds.
While No. 6 Midlothian (15-5, 1-2) and No. 16 Waxahachie High School (15-5, 3-0) entered the weekend state-ranked by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, only the Runnin' Indians owned a four-game win streak. The game, originally scheduled for Friday night, was rescheduled because of low temperatures and the threat of ice and snow.
The first quarter ended 11-6 and separated Midlothian (25) and Waxahachie (36) by a mere 11 combined field goal and 3-point shooting percentage points. While Waxahachie totaled 15 points behind five points by Larry Wise and four from Joe Savala — the Runnin' Indians points leaders in the second quarter — the Panthers scored 17 points in the second and were powered by three 3-pointers by Caleb Jordan and Evan Marshall and 6-for-11 shooting from the free throw line.
"We knew how good they were coming in. [Midlothian has] great players, but every team we're going to play in this district is going to have great players. It just takes being ready for every game," said Greg Gober the WHS head boys' basketball coach, about the Panthers' rallies throughout the game. "We used speed to counteract their size, but we had some kids come off the bench and produce and do a terrific job for us. We probably had the best game in terms of blocking out, rebounding and limiting people's opportunities, too. I believe we're coming around to playing like a team instead of like a group of individuals. I think this game was an example of that and the great results we have confidence in each other and have faith that every player will do his job."
At halftime, however, the opportunity for Midlothian to build off its second-quarter surge and raucous fan support and erase the Runnin' Indians three-point lead was ever-present, especially after Jordan and Marshall's third quarter performances.
That's when Mar'Quaylen Grant, who scored 13 of his 25 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field and a key 3-pointer, and Savala, who scored four of his season-high eight points, took over the third quarter and helped buoy Waxahachie to a 49-29 third quarter lead.
“Quay played out of his mind, but he didn't do it by himself. The kids played like a team and if we made a mistake, none of them quit” Gober said. “He dropped it off to other players as a facilitator, helped Tito (Savala) get some baskets and helped force turnovers on the defensive end."
He said the production of his reserve players boded well for their matchup against Mansfield Legacy (11-12, 1-1) given the short turnaround to their next game.
"It's a short preparation and you're only going to get to practice on Monday," Gober continued. "It's tough, but we have some momentum with the kids feeling good about themselves and their teammates. These kids have to do great things when they get in the game. That's what we've been trying to sell them. That's how we're going to be successful in a district as tough as ours. Tonight they performed and we had good results."
In addition to his game-high 25 points, Grant had seven rebounds, five steals and three assists. Senior Xavier Thompson II (7 pts) led the Runnin' Indians in rebounds with eight and juniors Savala (5), Montrae Gipson (7) and Tevin Wofford (3) combined for 15.
Thompson II also had two blocks — including a thunderous rejection of an Archie early fourth quarter layup that helped stop Midlothian's momentum momentarily.
Junior Larry Wise was Waxahachie's second-leading scorer with 14 points on 3-for-5 from the field and 100 percent from 3-point distance and chipped in three rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Despite entering halftime down three points and the final quarter down 16, Midlothian rallied behind Marshall's hot hand and 3-for-5 shooting from behind the 3-point line. The Panthers scored 27 points in the fourth quarter and fell by 15 points — only three more than the team's total in the first and third.
Jordan (14 pts, 3 asts, 2 stls), Marshall (14 pts, 5 pts, 2 ast) and Archie (13 pts, 4 rebs, 2 stls) were Midlothian's leading scorers. Lee (8pts, 8 rebs, 4 blks) nearly became the fourth player in double digits.
Led by respective 4-for-4 and 3-for-3 free throw shooting by Grant and Gipson in the final eight minutes, Waxahachie scored 10 of its 20 fourth-quarter points from the charity stripe.
Waxahachie will look to remain undefeated in District 10-5A play when it meets Mansfield Legacy High School at 8 p.m. Tuesday at George W. Solis Gymnasium. With a win against Mansfield Lake Ridge High School at 7:30 p.m. at MLRHS Gymnasium, as well as key losses by Lancaster and Mansfield Summit High Schools, Midlothian can even their district record at 2-2 and move into third place in the district standings.
The loss also dropped Midlothian from the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches' Top 25 Poll. Waxahachie remained at No. 16.
“The mood in the locker room was very sorrowful after the game. I think the boys knew they blew one they could have and should have won," Middleton said. "It's going to be critical for us to get a win against Lake Ridge, too. It's going to be a crossroads game for us. They're very similar [to Waxahachie] in the way they press and play defense. We've got to make some plays and our backcourt has to be more functional. We have to rebound better, commit fewer turnovers and handle the ball better. All of that has to be better than they were tonight."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter @MarcusMarionWNI.