MILLSAP – With a playoff spot secured and being virtually locked into 11-3A’s No. 3 seed after Friday’s win over Keene, there were two things that didn’t need to transpire against Millsap on Tuesday.
Glen Rose (23-10, 8-6 in 11-3A) did not need to sleepwalk its way to another lackluster performance in its final game of the regular season and Owen Clifton’s crew needed to leave the Bulldogs’ tight confines as healthy as it entered.
Prior to first tip of the 67-65 loss that Millsap’s Triston Boling delivered by splashing home a corner three with two seconds to play, very few considered the regular-season finale as a must win for Glen Rose.
But a perfect storm was brewing some-23 miles east. Glen Rose needed to win in order to maintain its third position in the district standings.
Approximately 20 minutes of real time prior to the final buzzer of game time in Millsap, Hillsboro (25-9, 9-5) completed its upset of top-seeded Peaster on the Greyhounds’ home court, 54-46.
Not only was the win the Eagles’ ninth in 11-3A, it unlocked the Runnin’ Tigers’ “virtual lock” on the district’s third seed and temporarily moved Hillsboro one-half-game ahead of Glen Rose in the standings.
Back-to-back Clifton timeouts advanced the ball the midcourt with 1.8 seconds to play and Glen Rose facing a miracle last heave or a loss and a fourth-place seed.
Tucker Garza’s three came up short, but Devin Crawford was there to collect the miss. Whether his made basket left his hands before the buzzer is debatable. But both sets of teams and fan bases began celebrating, as the officials congregated at the Glen Rose three-point line to discuss the shot.
A double-armed wave-off of Crawford’s basket and the officials exited the court post-haste. According to the officiating crew, the shot was taken after the buzzer.
“We played well, [Millsap] was just hot,” Clifton said. “Banked three pointers, rainbow shots that almost hit the rafters, you have to give them credit because they played well and they hit shots.
“It was their night tonight,” Clifton added.
The hypothetical game of “Ifs, Ands, and Buts” was more than likely played by many on the drive back across I-20 to Glen Rose.
“If the officials had counted Crawford’s last basket” can be thrown in the wastebasket with the other crumbled excuses along the lines of, “If the Runnin’ Tigers had only of converted on 21, not 18, of their 29 free throws” and “If Hillsboro’s Tanyon Fulenwider had of eaten bad Chinese food and been too sick to score a game-high 36 points, then….”
One thing is certain. Glen Rose can take solace in its bandage-free bus ride home and pat itself on the back for an overall stellar showing in game No. 33. But the preparation must quickly begin for game No. 34 and the impending 3A Bi-District showdown with future 6-4A and 8-4A rival, No. 3 Life Waxahachie High School.
Outside of playing for personal pride, Millsap (4-20, 3-11) knew Tuesday would be its final game of the 2015-16 season and the seniors knew it would be their last in maroon and white. Which is exactly how Josh Jones’ team played.
Millsap played with its hair on fire. The Bulldogs burned the hardwood with their full-court pressure and transition offense for all four quarters.
“Teams [with little to play for] want to try to upset you and knock you off, and you have to take your hat off to their play tonight,” Clifton said. “They were pulling up transition threes and jump shots, and that’s what we want. We want our defense to force teams to take those kinds of shots. They just made them. You have to shake their hand and tell them good job.”
The Runnin’ Tigers were not looking to waltz into the postseason and they certainly didn’t play like it, but it is hard to imagine that Clifton’s team expected to be met with the level of intensity Millsap played with.
All five of Glen Rose’s starters scored at least seven points and three reached double figures. Garza converted his team-high eight free throws (8-of-10) and two three’s for a team-leading 20 points and four assists. Crawford notched 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the floor (67 percent) and finished second on the team with five rebounds.
Wyatt Goebel matched Garza’s eight-point second half for his own 13-point night, Bailey Holder scored eight points to go with his team-high six rebounds, Ethan Hartman scored seven points – including two for a lead with under a minute to play – and Cashion Klipfell added two points.
Although Clifton’s team converted on just 31 percent (5-of-16) from three-point land, not one Runnin’ Tiger who took a shot inside the arc missed more than one.
As a team, Glen Rose shot 73 percent (16-for-22) on its two-point attempts and an identical 73 percent on 16-of-22 shooting inside the paint. The number of shots taken and made inside the paint is testament to the Runnin’ Tigers’ dedication to Clifton’s aggressive-style of basketball.
In keeping with the theme of growth, the fact that the once foul-plagued hoopsters were able to play aggressive, press for four quarters and commit eight fewer fouls (16-to-24) than Millsap is proof of their discipline.
The discipline, aggressiveness and growth will all be needed when Glen Rose takes on 31-win, 3-loss Waxahachie Life in next week’s bi-district playoff. The Mustangs – formerly of Life Red Oak High School – have nine seniors and six players listed 6-foot-3 or taller on this year’s team that has won 15-straight games.
Life Waxahachie has not lost since it dropped back-to-back games in the Paris Holiday Invitational to Arkansas’ 5A No. 3 Hot Springs and 27-win Clarksville out of 2A.
“Athletic, athletic, athletic.,” were the first three words that came to Clifton’s mind after watching the Mustangs play on Friday evening. “They press and do a good job of it. They are also patient and do a good job of crashing the glass, but we will be ready.”
“We get a tough team in the first round, but we will prepare and these kids are seasoned. We will be ready to go,” Clifton added. “Obviously, you would like to play a two seed instead of a one, but if you happen to knock them off then you get a first place road.”
Glen Rose and Life Waxahachie will take the court at Midlothian Heritage on Tuesday, Feb. 23. First tip is tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m.