The Brownwood Lions haven’t quite clinched a postseason berth, but at the midway point of district the odds of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2012 are definitely in first-year coach Nadir Dalleh’s favor.
The Lions wrapped up the first half of 5-4A action Friday night with a 56-49 home triumph over the Sweetwater Mustangs, giving Brownwood a 3-1 league record with its lone loss at No. 4 Abilene Wylie this past Tuesday.
Second-place Brownwood (16-10, 3-1), which has its second district bye Tuesday, is two games clear of Sweetwater, Big Spring and Snyder — all 1-3 in district — as it prepares for the stretch run of league play.
“We have a two-game lead for second place and that’s huge,” Dalleh said. “We know we have to win at home, take care of our home court, and so far we have in district. We have two more big ones, and the Snyder (Feb. 7) game is really big. But if we can go to Big Spring (Friday) and get a win there, we’re going to have a great opportunity to make the playoffs.”
Though the Lions appear on the verge of snapping their postseason drought, Dalleh wants to see continual improvement out of his squad — and though Friday’s final result was positive, it wasn’t the type of performance he had envisioned.
“A win is a win, but that’s about as ugly as you can get in terms of handling pressure,” Dalleh said. “We’ve handled a lot tougher pressure than that, not taking anything away from Sweetwater, but we were struggling to take good shots. It’s like we went back to the first of the season almost. And defensively, we’ve got to get the blocking out and rebounding fixed.”
Still, the Lions overcame a 29-26 halftime deficit and broke a 33-all tie in third quarter with a 7-1 spurt to end the period. In front 40-34 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Lions never trailed again and twice pushed the advantage to double figures.
Corleone Pressley again led the Lions with 24 points trailed by 14 from Sean Yoder, seven from A.J. McCarty, six from McLane Moore, three from Blaine Hughes and two points from Xavier Porter.
“McLane picks everything up on rebounds, that’s why he’s in there, and he’ll get some points out of that,” Dalleh said. “Yoder does the sneaky things to get to the basket and you have to have someone like that. And Corleone, I don’t know what we would do without him. He’s the leader of this group. I don’t think I took him off the floor tonight.”
Down at the start of the third period, a bucket from Pressley and a three-pointer by Hughes pushed Brownwood in front, 31-29, at the 7:32 mark. Sweetwater answered to draw even, then Pressley scored at 6:11 to give the Lions a 33-31 edge. Another Mustang bucket at 5:46 again knotted the score, but when Pressley found the bucket at the 5:35, the Lions grabbed a 35-33 lead they never relinquished.
Moore followed with a deuce at 5:12 then, after a Sweetwater free throw, McCarty drained a three-pointer with 2:07 left for the final points of the third quarter and a 40-34 cushion.
The fourth period started with buckets from Yoder and Pressley as the lead reached 10 points, 44-34, with 5:49 to go. The Lions later led 46-36 following a Yoder deuce at 5:15 before Sweetwater made a late charge.
The Mustangs crept within 50-46 with 1:41 left, but Moore responded with a bucket in the paint. Down 52-49 with 38 seconds left, Sweetwater yielded another bucket in the paint to Yoder on an assist from McCarty that essentially iced the contest as Brownwood regained a two-possession advantage.