The Duncanville Panthers entered Mike Turner Gymnasium as the top-ranked team in Class 6A and prepared for a bi-district battle against the Waxahachie Runnin’ Indians.
They escaped — emphasis there — four quarters later.
The Runnin’ Indians put the Panthers on the ropes and continued to take their shots, only to fall, 64-61, after a pair of missed three-point attempts with under 10 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.
“It was an incredible game,” Waxahachie head boys basketball coach Greg Gober said. “The loss is horrible in itself, but the way that we battled and the way that we went for the win showed that us what it takes to give everything you got. They gave [the coaching staff] everything we could ask for them in the biggest game of the season. They gave us everything they had.
“The ball didn’t bounce a couple of ways, and we turned it over a couple of times, but so did they," he added. "We made [Duncanville] have bad plays. We made them have bad plays, too. We just didn’t finish at the end.”
The game was close for the first three and a half quarters — really close. Waxahachie tied the game late in the second quarter (24-24) before No. 1 (26-7) Duncanville closed the first half on a 9-2 run for a seven-point Panthers lead at the half, 36-29.
Yet, Waxahachie battled right back in the third quarter to eventually take a one-point lead, 50-49, into the final eight minutes.
The Runnin’ Indians later took a five-point lead before a Duncanville free throw with just about three minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Waxahachie sophomore CJ Noland drained a pair of free throws a little later in the quarter for his 12th and 13th points of the evening and a three-point Runnin’ Indians lead.
He finished the game with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field to go with three assists and three rebounds.
The advantage was short-lived, unfortunately, as Jahmius Ramsey, a Texas Tech signee, continued his outstanding efforts from the free throw line with four consecutive free throws — his sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth — to knot the game at 60-all.
He then added a 10th freebie out of a Duncanville timeout with 2:15 to play in the fourth quarter for a one-point Panthers lead, 61-60. Ramsey finished with a game-high 16 points in the contest with just six of those coming from the field on 3-of-13 shooting (23 percent).
Duncanville added another free throw on the frontend of a one-and-one to extend the lead to two points. That two-point lead held as the clock ran under one minute to play in the fourth quarter and just after the Runnin’ Indians were called for a kicked ball.
The Panthers then built a four-point lead with 43 seconds to play after two more free throws.
A couple of seconds of game time later, JT Warren converted on the backend of a pair of free throws to pull the Runnin’ Indians within three, 64-61.
The Waxahachie press promptly forced a jump ball and Duncanville turnover with 13 ticks remaining and still down just three points.
Gober then called a timeout the think things over.
The Runnin’ Indians had two opportunities at open three-pointers but could not get either to tickle the twine, ultimately falling to the Panthers, 64-61.
Warren led the Runnin' Indians with 15 points, while Noland had 14 and Demani Richardson returned to score 10 points and pull down four rebounds.
CJ McGruder also scored 10 points and grabbed a team-high five rebounds for Waxahachie. Da'maraie Watkins added six points, Preston Hodge had two and Mekai Pope scored one.
In addition to Ramsey's 16 points, the Panthers received 14 points from Micah Peavy and Damon Nicholas Jr, while Keyaun Hoskin tallied nine, Ja’Bryant Hill had seven and Derek Luna added four.
“I am incredibly proud of this team, just as proud as any team I’ve ever had,” Gober said after the game. “These guys could have found a number of reasons to give up and there were so many reasons to point fingers and give up. Luckily, the guys refused to let that happen and saw what could be. We could easily be that other team (Duncanville) and be in that other locker room right now. I was just really happy with the effort from everybody.”
Duncanville entered the postseason with a 25-7 record and ranked as the No. 1 team in the TABC 6A poll. The Panthers are also the champions of District 8-6A.
Waxahachie was the fourth seed out of District 7-6A after finishing 7-7 in the Runnin’ Indians first season in Class 6A.
This was the third season for Gober, a Waxahachie alumnus, to lead the storied program. It was his first to not advance to at least the third round of the playoffs.
Fred Phipps/Daily Light contributed to this report.