MIDLOTHIAN — Mansfield Timberview High School managed to snap the Panthers' winning streak and trump their knack for knocking off top teams by claiming a 47-41 victory at Midlothian High School Arena.
But only barely.
"We had them dead to rights," said Steve Middleton, Midlothian High School's head boys' basketball coach. "We played without our second-leading scorer for the majority of the first half and were a play or two away from making it a really, really interesting game. We're playing good basketball right now and peaking at the right time. We had them. I hope we see them in the playoffs so we can see them again."
The (18-8, 4-5) Panthers began the game one of the hottest teams in high school basketball after winning back-to-back-to-back games against Red Oak, Mansfield Legacy and former Texas Association of Basketball Coaches' top 15 team and current reigning 5A state champion Lancaster High Schools.
He said Vince Lee getting into early foul trouble didn't help his team's chances of toppling one of Texas' highest ranked 5A teams. With 6:35 left in the first quarter, junior center Vincent Lee slid to defend Isaac Likekele's shot, got tangled up under the basket with the Wolves forward crashed to the hardwood.
The result of the clash was not one foul, but two.
"They make a pass in the middle and Vin jumps at the kid Isaac nd they get tangled up and fall to the ground pretty hard. Vin hits him on the way up so they give him a foul and a [technical foul]," Middleton continued. "What makes it worse is that this kid got 13 points in the second half and played 1:25 seconds in the first half."
Despite holding lead Wolf Chris Mullins and Mansfield Timberview to four points in the first quarter and entering halftime with a 16-14 lead, the second half told a better tale of how a fourth consecutive win slipped from Midlothian's grasp — particularly during the third quarter.
The Wolves outscored Midlothian 33-25 in the final 16 minutes despite 13 points from Lee and a near 12-point, nine-rebound double-double from junior Kaden Archie and 9-for-18 shooting from inside the 3-point line. The run also negated points from six of the 12 players on the roster, including eight from junior Caleb Jordan.
The loss took the Panthers from the sole owner of the final playoff seed to a three-way tie for fourth place with Mansfield Lake Ridge and Summit High Schools. Middleton said there's still four games and a lot of the season left, but with Waxahachie, Mansfield Lake Ridge and Lancaster looming in the distance, his team's leash on making mistakes and losing games is short.
"I don't know if it's a must-win game, but it's getting pretty close," he said, noting Midlothian's 8 p.m. Tuesday matchup with the Runnin' Indians at George W. Solis Gymnasium. "Beating Waxahachie in Waxahachie puts us in the position for the playoffs, but I think 7-7 will put you right there in the playoff mix. We have four wins right now and the way it's looking right now is that the absolute must-win is Friday against Lake Ridge. We're both tied and fighting for that spot and they beat us last time. Lake Ridge, Summit and Red Oak — we've got to win those games. Against Waxahachie and Lancaster, we have to find a way to win one or both of those."
Midlothian will face the Runnin' Indians, Eagles, Jaguars, Hawks and Flyin Tigers during the final two weeks of district play, teams that are undefeated, fighting for their playoff lives or seeking their first district win.
"We need the big four to produce," he continued. "I've got four players all averaging double figures. We can afford to have two players go 5-for-22. I hate to put the pressure on them, but that's not going to get it done. If we get that type of play we've seen in other games, we're a dangerous team."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.