RICHARDSON – To say that this season has been special for the Newman Smith boys basketball team would be an understatement.
The Trojans entered Friday night’s area-round playoff matchup with Frisco Centennial unbeaten on the year at 28-0 and remained perfect when things were all said and done after a convincing 71-54 win over the Titans to move on to the third round.
Even though the final score proved to be fairly lopsided with the 17-point victory, Smith was pushed to the limits until pulling away down the stretch in the fourth quarter.
“It’s getting harder and harder each and every game,” said Percy Johnson, Smith head coach. “I have to tip my hat off to Centennial. They do a hell of a job, and we hadn’t had a game like that in a while.”
While the first half featured five ties and nine lead changes, the final frame was fully in Newman’s Smith control with junior point guard Thibaut Tagnon completing his masterpiece of a performance with 12 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth.
In fact, Tagnon ignited the Trojans’ 16-5 run to begin the fourth quarter with a pair of layups, a 3-pointer and an alley-oop lob into the hands of senior forward Domani Villaruel for a two-handed flush to put things out of reach at 67-47 with a few minutes to go.
Tagnon got it done in many facets with five makes from beyond the arc, three steals and three assists in the win, while Villaruel’s size and athleticism proved to be too much for Centennial, as he finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.
“[Thibaut’s] IQ is off the charts and he is a just a complete player,” Johnson said. “I don’t have to worry about him bringing his A-game each and every game because he does that at practice, and really, tonight was really one of his bad nights for him.
“And [Domani] is one of those guys that is a sleeper. He has the talent and the energy to rebound and attack the basket, and I could see that tiger in his eye tonight.”
Centennial had a distinct game plan going in that it wouldn’t attempt to match Newman Smith’s run-and-gun style attack, but rather try to slow the pace down and get the best look they could find on the offensive end.
“Every team they’ve played didn’t change what they did and kept doing what they do,” said Justin Kauffman, Centennial head coach. “Our biggest thing was we wanted a close game late because they haven’t played one since December. We just couldn’t keep it as close as we wanted to for as long as we wanted to.”
After the Trojans raced out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first few moments of the contest, the Titans answered right back with a pair of makes from seniors Logan Swink and Anshu Reddy and a make from downtown by junior point guard Xavier Savage to close out a 7-0 run.
Savage and Swink ended their nights in double figures with 12 and 10 points, respectively, but all first half long it was Reddy who put on a dazzling offensive display.
The senior forward attacked the basket at will and scored the first bucket of the second quarter to tie it up at 15 apiece, and then capped off a brilliant outing with an and-one layup with 9.5 seconds to cut the Newman Smith lead to just two at 27-25 going into the locker rooms.
A pair of Reddy free throws and another layup kept the Titans within one early in the third before the Trojans made their first true push with an 8-2 run spearheaded by Villaruel, Tagnon and senior AJ Bar-Jona.
Despite facing its first double-digit hole of the night after one of Tagnon’s five triples on the night to make it 48-37, Reddy then sunk two technical free throws and splashed home a corner 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the third, as he finished with a team-high 21 points.
But just seconds after the Reddy field goal, Smith sophomore guard Devin Peters-Teague raced down the court and converted an and-one with just 4.2 seconds left to give his squad the momentum going into the final quarter of action.
Centennial’s outstanding season comes to a close but not after its first trip to the postseason since 2016 and just a year removed from a forgetful losing campaign a year ago.
“We were picked to finish ninth or tenth in district by coaches, and these guys played with a chip on their shoulder all year,” Kauffman said. “We surpassed all expectations and gave it a hell of a run.”
As for the Trojans, their dream season continues onto the regional quarterfinals where they will take on Kimball next week.