WAXAHACHIE — The Runnin' Indians won their 10th game in a row but had to travel through a tough road to get it.
Waxahachie' defense cooled Caleb Jordan's hot hand and staved off a furious rally to beat Midlothian High School 62-52 Tuesday at George W. Solis Gymnasium and remain first in District 10-5A.
"Regardless of whether it was by single or double digits, we've ground out wins," said Greg Gober, Waxahachie's head boys' basketball coach, his voice gruff and guttural from issuing court commands and play calls. "I think one of the best things about the game was our will and fight down the stretch. They didn't give us anything or hand us the game. We had to earn everything we got and we took advantage of it. We played better together and more aggressive in the second half versus the first, as well as trying to dictate a pace instead of settling for an open three and reacting to what was given to us."
Waxahachie earned a 65-50 victory on Jan. 6 at MHS Arena.
Jordan scored 18 points — none bigger than an absurd fourth quarter fall away 3-pointer with Waxahachie junior Mar'Quaylen Grant draped all over him — that gave the Panthers the first-half edge and helped them do something no other team has done in more than a month.
"We've been down in a lot of games, it just hasn't been recent," he continued. "Generally, we respond well to those situations and understand the things we do right and those we don't and make adjustments."
Behind the lights-out shooting of Jordan, who went 2-for-2 on 2 -point field goals and 2-for-3 from three for 11 points in the first 16 minutes, the Panthers leaped to a slim 24-23 lead. It was the first time Waxahachie went into the halftime break trailing since a 75-41 loss to UIL 6A Austin Westlake High School on Dec. 10.
The (18-9, 4-6) Panthers' first half defense, too, could be deemed as impressive after forcing Waxahachie into six turnovers. None were bigger than a Grant miscue that turned into a Jordan steal and massive buzzer-beating two-handed dunk by Midlothian junior Kaden Archie to end the first half. Archie, who tied Waxahachie's Larry Wise for the game lead in points, finished with 19 points, six rebounds and four assists.
The mid-game revival and the Runnin' Indians' counter of Larry Wise, however, was well underway by the midpoint of the third quarter.
As deadly and potent was the stroke of junior Montrae Gipson, who scored eight points in the first half on two 3-pointers and a rough-and-tumble runner in the middle of the lane, the selflessness of Grant, who scored nine points and dished seven assists, may have been equally as important.
Wise's was doubly so and a catalyst for the Indian comeback.
The junior forward scored all but three of his game-high tying 19 points in the second half, hitting both of his 3-point attempts and sinking six of his seven free throw attempts in the fourth quarter.
Led by Wise, junior Jaylen Warren (12 pts, 4 rebs, 3 stls. 2 blks) and senior Xavier Thompson II (12 pts, 3 rebs. 1 blk), Waxahachie stormed back into the game after going on a 14-8 run. Midlothian shot 3-for-8 from the field — their worst stretch of the night — in the third quarter and turned the ball over as many times in one quarter as they had in the first half.
Panther Head Coach Steve Middleton said his team's stall during that eight-minute span might have been the difference between an upset win and a near-miss at creating much-needed momentum.
"Turnovers — especially ones that led directly to points — killed us in the second half. It's the story of our season and our Achilles heel," he said after adjusting his checkered blue-and-black tie and jamming his hands into his suit pants pockets.
The Runnin' Indians gathered six of their eight steals during the third and fourth quarters and converted those mistakes into eight fast break points via takeaways by Warren (3 stls), Gipson (2 stls), Grant (2 stls) and Thompson (1 stl).
"That being said, there were some key components of our basketball team came together as a group," he said of his team's rally in the game's final minutes. "We played really, really well against a really, really good team and we came back in the fourth quarter and got it to within three [points]. We were a block and a couple of plays from winning a game and moving toward clinching a playoff berth. Now we have a must-win game against [Mansfield] Lake Ridge [High School]."
While Midlothian will tangle with senior guard Mike Adewunmi and Mansfield Lake Ridge at MHS Arena, Waxahachie will travel to Mansfield Legacy High School to take on the (13-18, 3-7) Broncos. Both games are at 8 p.m. Friday.
The (15-9, 5-5) Eagles, after a 48-43 win over Red Oak High School, claimed sole possession of fourth place in the district. Midlothian is locked in a two-way tie for fifth place with Mansfield Summit, which lost to defending 5A state champion Lancaster High School.
A win would place the Panthers back into the playoff conversation, especially with undefeated and state-ranked No. 3 Waxahachie looming in the distance as the school's season finale opponent. The Runnin' Indians are on a head-on collision with Mansfield Legacy (13-18, 3-7), which at seventh place, could be primed to play season spoiler.
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.