LUFKIN - The No.4-ranked Tenaha Tigers took the first step toward making a return trip to the State Basketball Championships tournament in Austin when they held off a pesky Lovelady squad and survived an upset with a 66-61 win here at Panther Gymnasium Friday night in a Class 1A D-I Region III Area matchup.
The Tigers (19-4) survived everything the Lions threw at them, despite a subpar shooting performance. Tenaha shot 25-of-60 (42%) from the floor and a stagnant 12-of-31 (39%) from the free throw line.
The Tigers did play their usual tenacious defense, forcing 18 turnovers and harassing the sharpshooting Lions, preventing them from getting the shot opportunities they needed. The Lions hit 21-of-34 (62%) of their shots from the field and 15-of-21 (71%) from the charity stripe.
The biggest difference in the game was under the Tenaha basket, where the Tigers won the battle of the boards by pulling down 14 offensive rebounds, compared to 16 defensive rebounds by Lovelady. Many of those offensive boards were converted to second and third shot opportunities for the Tigers, as they have a habit of making teams pay for giving them extra chances.
The win propels Tenaha into the Class 1A D-I Region III Quarterfinals round Tuesday night against Broaddus, a 49-30 winner over Carlisle. The Tenaha-Broaddus matchup will take place at Woden High School's Ford King Jr. Gymnasium, tipping off at 7 p.m.
The survivor of the Tenaha-Broaddus matchup will square off with the survivor of the Cayuga-Yantis matchup on Friday at 3 p.m. in the Class 1A D-I Region III semifinals in Tyler Junior College's Wagstaff Gymnasium.
The Tigers started the game hot, using a 9-1 run to start the game to sprint out to a 17-9 lead at the end of the first period. The quarter was especially disheartening to Lovelady fans, considering Tenaha's leading scorer, Reginald Davis, barely touched the ball, while picking up two fouls and going to the bench with 2:30 left on the clock.
The Lions seemed intent on stopping Davis, often using double teams to prevent the senior from getting the ball. The Tigers, however, are not a one-man team, as Octavius Griffith and Demon Horton proved by combining for twelve points, while finding holes in the Lovelady defense.
Davis came back in the game to start the second period and exploded for nine points, including a very acrobatic three-pointer, to lead the Tigers to a 33-24 lead at the halftime break. Horton also drilled a trey in the period, and Keontas Davis converted a pair of fast-break layups to aid the effort.
The third period saw the two teams match each other with 13 points apiece. Tre' Sherman and Taylor Therwanger, the Lions' two best defenders, both picked up their fourth fouls and spent considerable portions of the quarter on the bench. But the Tigers were unable to take advantage, thanks to lights-out shooting by Lovelady's Jacolby Simpson and Jordan Driskell.
The fourth quarter began with the Lions using a pair of baskets by Simpson and Driskell to close the gap and Tiger post DeAaron Roland picking up his fourth foul, while battling for a rebound. The 6'1" junior is big presence under the boards, but he was pulled to be sure he could be back for the final minutes.
Sherman came back into the game for the Lions and converted a couple of fast breaks to help draw the score within two points, 56-54, before picking up his fifth foul. With just over a minute left on the clock, the momentum seemed to be swinging the Lions' way for the first time in the game and the Tiger seniors sensed it.
Needing a big play to stop the rally, Tenaha turned to their senior playmaker. Davis took a kick-out pass from Griffith and launched a 'prayer' in front of the Tiger bench, a good six feet outside the arc, while sandwiched between two Lion defenders. As the ball ripped through the net, the Tenaha crowd exploded with a roar, while the scoreboard clicked to 59-54.
Driskell converted another layup to draw the Lions back within three, but Horton responded by taking a long inbounds pass from Davis and scored to stretch the lead again. The Lions would get a trey from Simpson to keep it close, but being out of timeouts, they were forced to foul to stop the clock. Griffith responded by draining 2-of-3 from the stripe in the final minute and the Tigers ran out the clock to seal the win.
Tenaha head coach Todd Bodden was happy with the win.
"We knew Lovelady was going to be tough," Bodden admitted. "They've got some really good players and they shoot the ball really well. We won the game with our defense and rebounding, which is what we've been doing all year."
The Tigers were led by Reginald Davis, who scored 17 points, while pulling down six rebounds. He also dished out five assists and recorded two steals. Horton added 14 points and three rebounds and fellow senior Griffith tossed in 14 as well to go with three assists.
Keontas Davis scored 10 points to go with three rebounds. Chavis Gregory scored six points, while pulling down a game-high eight rebounds. Roland grabbed seven boards to go with three points.
The Lions were led by Jacolby Simpson, who scored 23 points to lead all scorers. Jordan Driskell added 17 points.
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