In its sixth season of existence on the hardwood, the Independence boys basketball team had never beaten Lone Star – until Tuesday night.
The losing streak to the Rangers spanned a whopping 11 games, including a crushing 71-70 double overtime loss back on Jan. 3.
But while in the midst of their best season in program history, with a legitimate shot at a district title, the Knights kept on cruising with a convincing 66-53 victory over Lone Star.
“It was a good milestone for us,” said Eric Davis, Independence head coach. “As well coached as Lone Star is, it’s really great to get a win over those guys.”
In the early goings, it seemed as it if Independence was in for another long matchup with the Rangers, as Lone Star freshman guard Jayce Spann got cooking early with his team’s first eight points to lead 8-7 midway through the opening quarter.
That wound up being the final time Lone Star held an advantage in this contest after Independence then closed out the quarter on a 12-4 run behind six points from senior point guard Justus McCowan and four more from senior forward Harrison Young.
McCowan got to the basket at will in the closing minutes of the first frame and added the finishing touches with a buzzer-beating layup to give the Knights a 19-12 lead that they would not relinquish.
In fact, Independence tipped off the second stanza with a 9-2 run capped off by a monster dunk on a fast break by Young, who finished with a game-high 17 points. The Knights led by at least nine points the remainder of the contest.
Aside from the offensive explosion, another factor that aided in Independence’s dominant play the rest of the way was switching from a zone to a man-to-man defense.
“Switching to the matchup defense really helped us,” Davis said. “Once we did that it really changed the game for us and made sure their guys weren’t open.”
With the change in defensive strategy, players like Young and senior big men Malik McMurray and Mitchell McCurtain thrived with a plethora of blocked shots as well as 13 rebounds for McCurtain.
“Our big men do such a great job and are very unselfish,” Davis said. “Mitchell just has a knack for blocking shots, and Harrison has so much athleticism that his presence is very imposing.”
Independence led 40-25 at the break before the Rangers climbed back within 10 following a layup from senior Josh McLaughlin and a 3-pointer from senior Andre Howard. Sophomore guard Ashton Jeanty then got Lone Star within nine at 46-37 after a nifty and-one before the Knights answered right back with an 8-2 run to close out the third.
With the win, Independence is now in a three-way tie for first place in the District 9-5A standings, deadlocked with Centennial and Wakeland at 10-4, while Lone Star fell to seventh place at 6-8.
Just behind the Knights in the playoff picture is second-year Memorial at 9-5 and Frisco and Liberty at 8-6, as six teams are left vying for a district title with four games left to go.
“Tonight was a playoff game, and we have to look at the next four as playoff games,” Davis said. “This district has never been this competitive, and there is going to be some really good teams left out when it’s all said and done.”
Independence faces another tough test Friday against Lebanon Trail, while Lone Star looks to regroup against Heritage.