The reigning District 7-4A champion Brownwood Lions needed overtime to escape Stephenville with a victory in the league opener after falling to the Yellow Jackets by one point at the Dublin tournament during the first week of December.
In the rubber match between the rivals, the 7-4A front-running Lions witnessed a 15-point first-half cushion dwindle to three points at one point in the third period. Then, clinging to a four-point advantage with 2:19 left in the quarter, Brownwood pieced together an 11-0 run to end the frame.
The momentum remained in the Lions' favor throughout the rest of the contest as Brownwood outscored Stephenville 37-15 over the final 10-plus minutes, securing an 86-60 triumph Friday night at Warren Gym.
“I've been around this group of seniors for a long time and one thing I learned over time is don't panic with these kids,” said Lions head coach Nadir Dalleh. “I know we had a big lead and gave it up again. But I didn't panic and the kids didn't panic because I knew at some point in time we were going to turn it on, and we did.”
The Lions improved to 5-0 in district with the victory as they own a two-game lead over Glen Rose with three games remaining. Brownwood also moved to 24-5 overall, setting a new record for most wins in a single season in Dalleh's coaching career.
“This is the most wins I've ever had as a head coach, so this is very special to me,” Dalleh said. “Right now we've got a substantial lead, two games with three to play, but we just need to take care of us. We're worrying about Mineral Wells Tuesday and not overlooking anybody. They play hard and they were down just seven at Stephenville in the third quarter.”
Brownwood was led by 27 points from reigning district MVP Zach Strong, along with 20 from A.J. McCarty, who scored 12 points in the fourth period thanks in part to three consecutive three-pointers.
“Zach didn't miss a free throw and he scored the rest of his points in the paint,” Dalleh said. “It was very physical inside and Zach's learned it's going to be that way. But when you get him in the open floor he can run with the best of them and he got a couple dunks tonight. He is our leader and the voice of our team and we're glad he's playing for us.
“A.J. is getting that ankle healthy and you could see tonight how he moved up and down the floor. He finished with 20 and he hasn't that many points in a while.”
John Wilhelm also finished in double figures with 11 points trailed by nine from Beau Bronniman, eight each from Isyah Campos and Brandon Hamrick and three points from Cooper Swanzy.
Stephenville's long-range duo of Grayson Traweek and Skylar Stilwell was limited to a combined 29 points, with Traweek providing 21.
Traweek and Stilwell can fill it up and it's really hard to guard those guys,” Dalleh said. “We held Stilwell to eight points and that's unbelievable. He's averaging way over 20, he's lit us up in the past and had 32 the previous game. We did a good job of not letting those two beat us.”
The Lions jumped out to a 16-5 lead just 3:53 into the contest, led 23-13 after one quarter and opened a 33-18 advantage with 4:12 left before halftime, following a bucket by Wilhelm.
However, Stephenville (18-12, 3-3) closed the half on a 12-4 run and cut Brownwood's lead to 37-30 at halftime. The Yellow Jackets crept closer in the third as a trey from Stilwell trimmed the Lions' lead to 46-43 at the 2:53 mark.
Leading 49-45, a bucket from Hamrick at the 1:42 mark triggered the Lions' closing flourish to the quarter. Wilhelm and McCarty followed with buckets on Brownwood's next two trips down the floor, Wilhelm then drained a trey and Hamrick scored just before the buzzer, staking the Lions to a 60-45 lead.
Brownwood remained on the offensive early in the fourth period as, leading 62-47 after a bucket by Strong, McCarty buried three straight treys as the lead reached 20 points, 71-51, with 5:47 to go. The Lions continued to increase their advantage down the stretch, with the cushion peaking at 26 points on four occasions.
“They can put up points fast and in a hurry,” Dalleh said. “They love to play together, they like to pass the ball, they're a great group of kids. These seniors have one more home game, and that's sad for me, but hopefully we'll have a lot more games overall to go.”
The Lions visit Mineral Wells (4-22, 0-5) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Glen Rose (16-17, 3-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, then wrap up the regular season at home on Feb. 18 against Godley (11-12, 2-3).