EARLY — What began with a pre-game proposal and featured the scoreboard reaching an untimely demise early in the fourth period ended in victory for the Early Longhorns, who downed the Class A No. 24 Lingleville Cardinals, 56-47, Friday night in their final game before the Christmas break.
Prior to the game, Early head coach Justin Moore proposed to his girlfriend Jamie Lee Duke, who was selected out of the crowd and blindfolded for a pre-game “shooting competition.” When the blindfold was removed, Moore was on a knee with an engagement ring, and the Longhorns players were in the background with white T-shirts with the letters “SAY YES!!!” painted on them.
“We've been dating for about seven months now,” Moore said. “It's just one those things where we're both basketball coaches, so why not do it in this type of arena to set the mood.”
In what was a tightly-contested game throughout, the Longhorns (5-10) carried a 41-37 lead over Lingleville (10-4) into the fourth quarter. Twelve seconds into the final period, the scoreboard — which had malfunctioned throughout the contest — took its last breath and was finally shut off, while the Early offense found a rhythm and came to life.
“Every day in life there's struggles,” Moore said of the scoreboard, which reset multiple times throughout the contest. “It was like going back to the old school days keeping the clock manually, and then we're using dry erase boards for the score. That's pretty funny.”
Once play resumed after the scoreboard was shut down, Early tallied six consecutive points to open the first double-digit advantage of the contest, 47-37.
Rowdy Elkins triggered the surge with a three-pointer, then Josh Baucom followed with a free throw and Brent Grooms scored following an offensive rebound.
The Longhorns eventually increased the advantage to 13 points, 52-39, following Elkins' second trey of the quarter.
“We are a smaller team, we don't have the bruisers like we used to, so three-point shooting has been a focus,” Moore said. “We spent all offseason, during the period, open gyms on Sunday, whenever we can on it. That's our emphasis in practice, everything we do is three-ball shooting.”
Trailing by 13 points, Lingleville responded with eight straight to close the gap to 52-47 with just over a minute left. Luke Whiteley sank a couple of buckets, then Devon Corpus drained two free throws ahead of a pair of technical free throws by Whiteley.
On Lingleville's next possession, the Cardinals had four opportunities to trim Early's lead to either three or two points before the Longhorns finally wrestled away a defensive rebound.
Elkins was then fouled and converted a pair of free throws to stretch the lead back to seven points, 54-47, while John Griffin added two more free throws with three seconds left for the final nine-point margin.
Early found itself in a 14-11 hole after one quarter, but grabbed a 28-25 halftime lead. Down 17-15, the Longhorns scored 10 consecutive points to surge in front. Ty Schafer started the rally with consecutive three-pointers that made the score 21-17. Buckets by Griffin and Devyn Burns followed.
“We played better offensively and didn't turn the ball over as much,” Moore said. “We've had some issues where we try and push the ball and force passes that aren't there. Defensively, that hasn't been a struggle for us. We've had two teams that scored around 70 points, but the rest of the time we're only giving up about 49 points a game.”
Griffin finished with a team-high 17 points for Early trailed by Schafer with 10, Elkins and Timmy Smithson with eight apiece, Burns and Grooms with five each, Taylor Hurt with two points and Baucom with one.
For Lingleville, Sergio Rangel poured in a game-high 18 points followed by 12 from Whiteley, nine from Ivan Rangel, six from Corpus and two points from Joel Martinez-Miralles.
The Longhorns will next compete in the TexasBank Holiday Classic with their opening round game against Stephenville at 1:50 p.m. Thursday at Brownwood High School.