BANGS— The Early Longhorns remained in a tie for fourth place in the District 6-3A playoff race after tamping the Bangs Dragons’ hot offense with their man-to-man, full-court press during a 53-39 victory Friday night.

Intent on upsetting their cross-county rival, the Dragons (4-20, 1-8) stunned the Longhorns (15-10, 5-4) early with their frantic pace and perimeter shooting only for Early to slow the momentum to a halt with its press to steadily pull away for a double-digit victory.

“When we changed to our press, it gave us more area coverage. We put people at farther ranges and that prevented their shooters from shooting threes,” said Early guard Timmy Smithson, who scored a team-high 18 points. “It helped a lot. They have a couple of shooters who shoot the ball really well and cutting them off really stopped them from getting into the paint. Their defense down low is really spread, because they like to run man, our big men helped a lot by setting screens and it was easy to get into the lane.”

Bangs jumped out to a 10-4 lead after forward Wes Mitchell hit a close-range shot, followed by a three-pointer and jumper from Justin Wilson, who suffered a string of injuries before finally coming into Friday’s game healthy. Senior guard Trevor Slaughter’s three-pointer put his team in double digits, then Early coach Daniel Price opted for a full-court, man-to-man defense to slow down things down.

“We started a little sluggish, but once we found our footing and got the press going we got a few turnovers and that really got us going,” Price said. “It shifted the momentum and we hit some easy buckets and that put us in a position to win. I told them on the bench ‘it’s time to get up and go and play like I know we can.’ In the fourth quarter we were playing like I know we could. It’s exciting to know where we are in district and coming here and getting a win.”

Wilson’s 10-point effort in the first quarter put his team up 15-12 but Early, realizing he had a hot hand, kept him from getting into open space and held him to a team-leading 22 points – more than half of Bangs total offensive production. Bangs seemed to attempt the same tactic on Smithson only to open Early forward Ty Schafer. Smithson and Schafer seamed the Longhorns 1-2 combination, eventually pummeling the Dragons into submission with both teams opting to their bench midway through the fourth quarter.

“It’s Early. It’s Bangs. It’s a huge rivalry. I’m upset that we lost, but our kids responded well,” Bangs coach Joe Williams said. “I compare it to a boxing match. They got a few more punches in than we did, but we responded well. We just shot ourselves in the foot too many times. Overall, I thought we played pretty well.”

Early will look to keep their momentum going Tuesday when its faces second-place Dublin. Bangs will need to win out to keep its playoff hopes alive and faces Hamilton, who is currently tied with Bangs for last place in the district standings. Tip off times for both games are 8 p.m.