EARLY — The May Tigers owned a six-point advantage in the first minute of the fourth period, but the Early Longhorns staged their second consecutive late rally to collect a 71-60 victory Monday night.
Early improved to 2-0 under first-year head coach Nadir Dalleh as the Longhorns stormed back from 15 points down to defeat Merkel, 60-59, in the season opener last week.
“It’s a really good thing when you have two good fourth quarters, but we have to get the other three to go with it,” said Dalleh, who inherited a 4-25 squad from a year ago. “It wasn’t pretty, but it’s something to work with. These kids need to experience winning and get their confidence going.”
Cameron Denison led the Longhorns with 34 points, including 19 in the fourth period, followed by 11 from Josh Benson and five each from Kwinton Reno and Chase Riker.
“Cameron’s an unbelievable player who knows how to take over,” Dalleh said. “He’s quick enough and has good enough ball handling ability to take anyone to the basket, but he also hit some big threes to get us back in the game.”
May was led by 20 points from Ethan Jaggars, 14 from Justin Howard and 10 points from Ethan Starnes.
A three-pointer by Kendrick Aguerro at the end of the third period staked May to a 50-46 lead, then Jaggars scored to stretch the advantage to 52-46 with 7:39 to go.
Early then cranked up the pressure on its full court press, which led to numerous May turnovers and a 13-0 run that pushed the Longhorns in front, 59-52, with just under six minutes remaining.
“I didn’t want to start out in a press real soon because of the in-shape factor, being the second game of the year,” Dalleh said. “But we just had to and we got in there and forced some turnovers and got some points in the open floor. That’s what got us back into it — that and hitting a few big three-point shots.”
Back-to-back threes by Denison quickly erased May’s lead and pulled Early even at 52 with 7:15 to go. Denison followed with a traditional three-point play to give the Longhorns a 55-52 advantage — a lead Early would not relinquish again.
Buckets by Starnes and Howard allowed May to creep within 59-56 with 5:22 remaining, but the Longhorns fired back with a 9-1 surge to open their first double-digit cushion, 68-57, at the 3:47 mark.
The Tigers led 11-9 after one quarter before Early snatched a 15-13 lead 61 seconds into the second period.
May then responded with a 10-0 run to regain a 23-15 advantage with 4:09 left before halftime. Starnes accounted for six Tiger points during the run.
Early answered with a 12-2 run to close the first half and led 32-28 at the break, but was outscored 22-14 in the third period.
The Longhorns are scheduled to visit Comanche at 8 p.m. today while May is slated to welcome Rochelle.