ITASCA, Texas — Italy's Gladiators extended their season-best eight-game win streak Tuesday night at Itasca High School Gymnasium, beating the Wampus Cats by a 36-point margin.
They also remained undefeated in District 19-2A boys' basketball standings.
"It is definitely the most talented team that I have had the pleasure of coaching," Gladiator Head Coach David Ervin said about his team after the 74-38 win. "I think that we are right in the middle of the mix compared to other teams I've seen and with some of the best teams in the state. We're taking it one game at a time. I have never had a team go undefeated in district and it will be difficult with the talented teams we face this season. These young men are always ready for the challenge."
Ervin called the (15-4, 2-0) Gladiators' performance during the matchup his team's most dominant game of the year. By soundly defeating Itasca's Wampus Cats, he and his team may have taken more than a couple of steps in proving they not only should be ranked by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, but also considered as one of the most dangerous teams in Texas 2A boys basketball.
Twenty-three points from senior guard Keith Davis II, who was three shy of a new season high, as well as 18 from junior Kendrick Norwood and 12 from senior Kevin Johnson, helped Italy score 50 points in the first half and outscore Itasca 24-14 in the final two quarters.
Junior Tylan Wallace scored six points and seniors Kenneth Norwood and Jeremiah Thompson scored five each.
The Gladiators also controlled the battle of the glass, outrebounding the Wampus Cats by 36. The combined rebounding total of Johnson, Kenneth and senior Christian Lightfoot(23) was more than Itasca's entire roster (21).
Johnson nearly posted a double-double, grabbing eight rebounds and Lightfoot grabbed a game-high nine rebounds and blocked two shots despite going scoreless in four quarters and Kenneth added six rebounds.
The Gladiators' perimeter defense, too, was an intricate part of the blowout win. Junior Chalo Cavazos, who scored 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting, was the only Wampus Cat player that scored in double figures.
The eight other boys on the roster were held to seven or fewer points and a dismal 11-for-30 (37 percent) shooting from the field and 2-for-10 (20 percent) from behind the 3-point line.
Led by Thompson's five steals and four each from Davis, Johnson and Kenneth, Italy forced 29 turnovers on 20 steals.
The Gladiators will have an ample opportunity to open the eyes of TABC odds makers if they can win the 8 p.m. Friday matchup against Kerens High School (7-4, 2-0) at Italy High School Gymnasium. The Bobcats, which are tied for first place with Italy and Cross Roads High School, are ranked as the TABC No. 13 2A boys basketball team.
Ervin said, despite the difficulty of their rough-and-tumble district, scaling the top of the mountain is a reality for Italy basketball — regardless of gender.
"A win against a team like Kerens would mean a lot to our team and add more confidence to a group that is already confident," Ervin said. "I think that more people would take notice of things that we're doing here in Italy. I think if we continue to play pressure defense, limit our turnovers and make open shots, we will win the game. Kerens put a lot of pressure on teams defensively because they are excellent off the dribble. We have to respond to that and have to keep them out of the paint on dribble drives."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter @MarcusMarionWNI.