GRAHAM — A 15-point spurt to start the second half propelled the Brownwood Lions to their first bi-district championship since 2012 on Tuesday. Friday night, however, the Lions fell victim to a 15-0 run toward the end of the first half, which triggered the Burkburnett Bulldogs' 87-68 Region I-4A area round playoff victory.
Leading 28-25 with 4:32 left in the second period, the Lions (22-11) were outscored 19-1 by the Bulldogs (23-10) the rest of the half, which dramatically altered the complexion of the contest.
Burkburnett's run of 15 unanswered points began innocently enough with two free throws from Jaden Arnold, who then followed with a jumper at the 3:47 mark to push the Bulldogs back in front of the Lions, 29-28. Shortly thereafter, in a span of just 59 seconds, Burkburnett reeled off four consecutive three-pointers — en route to sinking 15 on the night — as Brownwood faced a 40-28 deficit with 1:49 left in the half.
The Lions momentarily stopped the bleeding with an Isyah Campos free throw, but the Bulldogs tacked on two more buckets to carry a 44-29 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
“For 15 minutes we were playing as well as we could and had the lead for the most part, but 60 seconds is all it takes,” said Lions third-year head coach Nadir Dalleh. “That's how they play, and they've been doing it for a long time. We folded for a minute and they got hot and that's what happens. If we could have held on for another 60 seconds, who knows what could have happened.”
Trailing by 15 at the break, the Lions were unable to cut into Burkburnett's lead in the second half. The Bulldogs pushed their advantage to 20 points, 57-37, with 4:56 left in the third as Andrew Hawkins knocked down one of his team-high five three-pointers.
Burkburnett carried a 67-46 edge in the fourth period, where the lead reached its peak of 25 points, 85-60, with 4:48 left on an offensive putback by 6-foot-7 forward Tre'von Dean.
“If they're not hitting from the outside they have 6-7 guys on the inside,” Dalleh said. “If you look at what Burkburnett did tonight there is not a selfish person on that team. They made unbelievable plays and were very smart on the floor and we've got to get to that level. We're almost there, we just have to grow a little bit more.”
After a slow start from the free throw line, the Lions finished 21 of 33 from the charity stripe — outscoring Burkburnett by 19 points as the Bulldogs were just 2 of 8 on free throw attempts.
What plagued the Lions most was 30 turnovers, with 21 coming in the first half including 10 in the first period, as several times Brownwood struggled to get the ball to half court. Still, the Lions converted four of their seven three-pointers during the opening eight-minute stanza, and scored eight of the last 10 points to carry a 21-17 lead into the second quarter.
“Our kids played defense as well as we could for the first quarter and a half, maybe longer than that,” Dalleh said. “We were slowing them down, not giving them good looks, but they can go 12 deep and outman you. It's hard to match up with that.”
A.J. McCarty finished with a team-high 22 points for the Lions followed by John Wilhelm with 20, Zach Strong with 12, Isyah Campos with six and Cooper Swanzy, Ryan Riker, Theo Bryant and Darrell Williams with two points apiece.
Burkburnett received 17 points from Hawkins, 16 from KenDarious Horton, 14 each from Jaevion Moreland and Gavin Morris, 10 from Arnold, eight from Dean and two points each from Doriean Smith, Lucas Prayer, Jacob Bale and Duante Thompson.
Friday's game was the final in the high school careers of Brownwood's Riker, George Nicholas, Zach Barron, Joseph Johnson, Parker Dorsett and Lawrence Garcia.
“Ryan Riker, what he did the last couple of games on defense is just unbelievable,” Dalleh said. “Throw George in there and the rest of those guys and they were a part of what we've done to turn this program around. This is the second straight season we've won at least 20 games and that hasn't happened in a while and it'ss something we're building on. We have a lot of juniors coming back and I can't wait to see what the future holds.”
The Lions finished with the 2018-19 season with their first district championship since the 1990-91 campaign and first playoff victory in seven years.