At the Christmas break, the Brownwood Lions were still finding their way, nursing a 7-9 record as they prepared for the TexasBank Holiday Classic. Fourteen games — including seven against District 7-4A competition — later, the Lions have yet to experience defeat while achieving a program goal not enjoyed since the 1990-91 campaign.
On Senior Night Friday at Warren Gym, the Lions captured their first district basketball championship in 28 years, completing a league sweep of the Glen Rose Tigers, 77-56.
“I remember the last time it happened, I was a sophomore in high school and that was a long time ago,” said Lions third-year head coach Nadir Dalleh, who owns a 59-34 record at his alma mater. “There's no doubt these kids deserve it. They play hard, they come to work every day and there's no relaxing in them. In the second quarter we had a big lead and Glen Rose made a great run at us, but the kids responded coming out in the second half and that's just what these kids do.”
The game was a rematch of the narrow 64-61 overtime victory for Brownwood (21-9, 7-0) in Glen Rose (17-16, 5-2) on Jan. 22. By virtue of the sweep, the Lions own a two-game lead over the Tigers with one contest left, thus wrapping up a title three decades in the making.
“It's just amazing. We've had so much talent the last few years, going to the playoffs with 20 wins last year, we just couldn't get over the hump to take home a district championship,” said junior Zach Strong. “To go out here with still a game left in district and be undefeated, to put almost 80 up on a team we went to overtime with before in front of the home crowd, it's such a great feeling it gives me goosebumps.”
Fellow junior A.J. McCarty added, “It means a lot knowing no one's won a district championship in almost 30 years. It's a great feeling knowing we could be the first team to accomplish that.”
Strong finished with a team-high 19 points against Glen Rose followed by 16 from John Wilhelm, 13 from Isyah Campos, nine from McCarty, five apiece from Theo Bryant and George Nicholas, four from Ryan Riker and three points each from Beau Bronniman and Darrell Williams.
“Everybody has their role, mine is a three-pointer shoot and I do it pretty well, Zach is a rebounder and scorer inside, we've all come together and figured each other out and we're playing up to our potential now,” Wilhelm said. “This feels amazing, it's always been something I've dreamed of and it's finally becoming a reality.”
The game couldn't have started much better for the Lions, who used an early 23-2 run to open a 28-6 advantage over Glen Rose with 6:43 left in the first half. During Brownwood's burst, the Tigers went 7:40 without scoring a point, while the Lions tallied 19 in that same span.
“We've started pretty fast the last couple of games, but sometimes we struggle with worrying about officiating and certain other things going on,” Dalleh said. “They didn't worry about any of that tonight. They took care of business, and we made some free throws, that helped, too.”
“Earlier in the season we were still getting our legs under us, we hadn't had that many practices with each other,” Strong added. “Now, we're all just playing together. Any one of these guys can put up 20 to 30 points a night. We started playing as unit and not individuals.”
Down by 22 points, Glen Rose reeled off 11 in row to shave Brownwood's lead in half, 28-17, at the 3:46 mark of the second period. By halftime, the Tigers had crept within seven points, 37-30.
“We had the tempo how we wanted it early, we wanted to get up and down the floor and make them chase us,” Dalleh said. “The tempo slowed down in the second quarter and we played their game for a while and they got some spot-up threes and they can fill it up if you let them shoot it.”
Still up by seven points, 40-33, just 67 seconds into the second half, the Lions poured in the next six points to begin to turn the momentum back in their favor. Buckets by Campos, Riker and McCarty boosted the Brownwood edge to 46-33 at the 4:10 mark.
Glen Rose answered with a three-pointer with 3:28 left in the third, which turned out to be the Tigers' last points of the quarter. The Lions responded with 11 in a row — five by Nicholas, three by Williams, two by Riker , and a free throw from Wilhelm — to establish a 21-point cushion, 57-36, heading to the fourth period.
There, a trey by Wilhelm with 6:43 left gave Brownwood its largest lead to that point, 62-39, and the rout was on. The Lions' lead peaked at 32 points, 77-45, following a bucket by Strong with 2:59 remaining.
“The difference between this game and the first game is we finished around the rim and made free throws, which is a good thing to do at home,” Dalleh said.
Brownwood will attempt to push its win streak to 15 games and complete an unblemished run through the 7-4A slate when it visits Godley at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We have a good win streak going, knock on wood, and these kids don't want to lose and that's a great thing to have,” Dalleh said. “They want to compete night in and night out and to be able to do that you have to find that within you.”
And what does the future hold for the Lions after Tuesday's district finale?
“We just need to keep improving everyday,” McCarty said. “Work to get past the first round, second round, third round, etc. The goal for me and the rest of the team is to get a state title.”