Another slow start offensively plagued the Brownwood Lions, who slid to the third playoff seed from District 5-4A following Tuesday night’s 53-41 loss to the Sweetwater Mustangs in the regular season finale at Warren Gym.
Both Brownwood (20-10, 4-4) and Sweetwater (10-16, 4-4) finished with identical district records, but the Mustangs swept the season series from the Lions to earn the No. 2 playoff seed.
The Lions, making their second consecutive trip to the playoffs after a five-year absence, will face District 6-4A runner-up Burkburnett (17-13) at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Anson in Region I-4A bi-district action.
“We’re still going to the playoffs and we can still make a little run, but we have come prepared ready to practice tomorrow,” said Lions second-year head coach Nadir Dalleh. “Burkburnett is pretty athletic. They played Graham, who is in their district, and we beat Graham here in overtime. Graham lost to Burkburnett by one and by 11 I believe.”
Brownwood is heading into the playoffs on a two-game skid and averaging just 39 points per game in those losses. Against Sweetwater Tuesday night, the Lions were in a 23-11 hole at halftime.
“It’s been that way the last couple of times,” Dalleh said of the Lions’ recent offensive woes. “We have to come out and compete from the very start. We’re not going to beat anybody if we don’t do that. I asked them at halftime where was the team that went out to Big Spring was ahead 24-0 after the first quarter? We have to find that the next few days and thank goodness we have some time to do it.”
Neither team got off a blazing start as the Lions trailed 10-7 at the 3:34 mark of the first period, but a traditional three-point play by Sweetwater’s Kobe Clark, followed by treys from Tristan Longoria and J.L. Solis put the Lions in a 19-7 hole just 52 seconds into the second period.
“Sweetwater came out ready to play,” Dalleh said. “They’re very athletic, they were a step faster than us and we couldn’t recover.”
The Lions mustered just four points the entire second quarter — on an Xavier Porter bucket at 5:24 and a Zach Strong deuce at 3:27.
Trailing by a dozen at halftime, the Lions fell victim to a 9-2 Sweetwater run out of the gate as the Mustangs padded their cushion to 32-13 at the 4:55 mark of the third quarter.
After three periods, the Lions faced a 41-25 deficit but began to make a late charge after Sweetwater’s Kiante McCoy was called for a technical foul with 6:19 remaining.
Down 45-29, Porter sank both technical free throws, Isyah Campos drained a three-pointer, then Campos converted a three-point play after a steal, layup and foul. The Lions trimmed the deficit to 45-35 at 5:47, but Sweetwater milked almost two minutes off the clock, sinking four free throws in the process to stretch the lead back to 49-35 with 3:49 to go.
The Lions finally clawed back within single digits, 50-41, on another Campos bucket with 44 seconds to go, but Brownwood failed to score the rest of the contest.
“Sweetwater got a big lead and we made a good run at them for a little bit,” Dalleh said. “But they’ve got two really good guards that are hard to stop. They make things happen and that was the deal, we just couldn’t stop those two.”
Campos came off the bench and led the Lions with 10 points followed by A.J. McCarty with seven, Porter and Strong with six apiece, Blaize Infinger and Blake Bronniman with five each and Sean Yoder with two points.
Sweetwater received 20 points from Solis, eight each from Clark, McCoy and Jackson Foster, seven from Longoria and two points from Logan Wedin.