CORSICANA, Texas — Maypearl biggest challenge of the season may lie ahead, but it picked up momentum during Tuesday night's 87-72 win over Palestine Westwood at Navarro Junior College's Wolens Center.
Against Westwood's Panthers, the District 18-3A No. 3 seed, Maypearl brought its A-game — specifically with a career-high by senior Tanir Horton and the team's late-game defense.
"Our transition offense off of our defense and tips and deflections were major keys during the game," Sam Riepe, Maypearl's head boys' basketball coach, about his team's double-digit win. "We also slowed Westwood down and made their players shoot jump shots. Rebounding, which we did decent against Westwood, is something we need to improve before facing Jarrell. We'll also have to limit turnovers — which we struggled with at times against Westwood — or we will be fighting to stay in the game."
The Panthers coughed up 10 turnovers in four quarters of basketball. It was the 24th game the team had 10 or more turnovers. Maypearl has only had three games — against Keene and Rice High Schools and North Hills Preparatory Academy — that it posted single digit mistakes.
Horton's 33-point, seven-rebound and five-assist double-double and double-figure scoring by junior Tariq Massey (13 pts) and Jake Wiggins (12 pts) and senior Brandon Wright (11 pts), though, helped negate the potentially back-breaking statistic.
Wiggins, who pulled down nine rebounds and swatted away two blocks, was one shy of a double-double. Riepe's boys not only outscored their opponent in each of the four quarters, but they also forced double-digit turnovers via five different efforts.
Juniors Gunner Petty and Tucker Talley led the team in steals with three each and Horton (2), Wright (2) and Massey combined for the remaining five.
Maypearl's dictated pace, Riepe said, ultimately made the difference between a win and a loss to one of East Texas' best teams.
"We were able to push the tempo of the game," he said. "We stated all last week that getting the ball down the court fast will help us to beat zone [pressure], plus we are better when we get out and run the floor. Offensively, we were patient with the ball and attacked the rim well, and defensively, we got some tips and deflections that helped us increase that pace."
The talent gap between Tuesday's opponent, Palestine Westwood, and Friday's adversary, Jarrell High School, is more than marginal. The (27-3, 14-0) Cougars aren't only District 20-3A's undefeated No. 1 seed, they are also the No. 3 boys 3A team in the state per a Feb. 20 Texas Association of Basketball Coaches State Poll.
Jarrell also beat West High School 67-47 in the bi-district round, held nine of the Trojans' 10 players to single digits and forced 20 turnovers.
Maypearl, however, is not West.
Its collection of talent is not limited to the ball-handling magic of Horton, either. Massey, Petty, Wiggins, Wright, senior Joe Jones and sophomore Carson McManus have all shown the propensity to score in bunches. The Panthers have four players — Horton (17.9), Wright (12), Massey (10.7) and Wiggins (10) — scoring 10 or more points.
Jones (6.6) and Petty (5.4), who have respective season highs of 19 and 20, are within earshot.
Balance and speed may be the Panthers' greatest weapons, Riepe said, when they meet one of Texas' best teams at 7 p.m. Friday at Waco University High School. They are also tools that have helped his team negate height.
"Against Palestine Westwood, height-wise we were at a little bit of a disadvantage, but we made up for it in heart, hustle and athleticism," Riepe said about their daunting task on Friday night. "All year we have been the shortest team on the court, but the boys don’t see the height as a problem, but more of a challenge. Jarrell is well-coached team and has a similar style to us and only has two to three kids that are taller than us. Other than that, we match up well. They like to press, push the tempo of the game and play good defense, so going into the match up, we will have to be able to handle the press with pressure and good man-to-man defense. Jarrell also likes to capitalize on turnovers, so we have to be sound in getting back in our transition defense.
"Making it to the regional tournament would be great for the city of Maypearl and the players and parents, but we are focused on the area and Jarrell on Friday night. We have to take it one game at a time right now and not look past anybody at this point in the season. Underestimation and a lack of focus can be why good teams sometimes find early exits."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.