Throughout the second half of District 5-6A play, the Little Elm boys basketball team was a force to be reckoned with.
The Lobos avenged a previous loss to an Allen team that has qualified for the postseason, pulled out a one-point thriller at Denton Guyer, and gave McKinney, No. 8 in the latest Texas Association of Basketball Coaches state poll, all that it could handle in a 62-56 loss.
On Friday night, Little Elm defeated Denton Braswell, which came into the game locked into the No. 2 seed in 5-6A. Junior Cooper Macaulay poured in 23 points, including six 3-pointers – all in the first half – and the Lobos rallied from three separate nine-point deficits in the third quarter to earn a 72-70 victory in their season finale.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Dominique Parker, Little Elm head coach. “I just wanted this for our seniors. I wanted it for our underclassmen. I wanted to send them out on a good note.”
Friday’s win was very satisfying for a Little Elm team that stayed the course after enduring two separate quarantine periods before district play commenced. The Lobos were forced to step away from the court not long after playing South Garland on Dec. 18. Once Little Elm returned from that shutdown, the Lobos got in one practice before they were forced into their second shutdown in a row due to COVID-19 concerns within their program.
Upon its return, Little Elm (8-13, 3-9) had very little practice time to play five games in a seven-day span, starting with their 5-6A opener against Allen on Jan. 9.
“We just didn’t get our chance,” Macaulay said. “Given the circumstances that we were given, we did the best that we could. I came in here my first year and I just love these guys. I came in and they embraced me and we were able to do some amazing things, despite the situation that we were given.”
Little Elm’s unflappable demeanor showed up in its play Friday night.
Macaulay put on a clinic from behind the arc in the first half. With Braswell playing a 2-3 zone, he took advantage of that matchup. Macaulay buried six 3-pointers in the first half as the teams battled to a 31-31 halftime tie.
“They weren’t pressing up on me,” Macaulay said. “They were in a zone. I thought that I could beat it by shooting the ball from deep. I hit the first one and then I hit the second one and I was just feeling it.
To counter Macaulay’s hot shooting, Braswell switched to a matchup zone in the second half. While that took away Macaulay, who was held to just two points over the game’s final 16 minutes, that opened up scoring opportunities for his teammates.
But, before Little Elm pulled off the comeback, the Lobos were trying to contain Braswell sophomore R.J. Jones.
Jones punctuated a 26-point performance with a four-point play less than two minutes into the third quarter. He buried a 3-pointer from the left wing as he was being fouled. Jones converted the subsequent free throw to give the Bengals a 42-36 lead.
Jones led all scorers with 26 points, with only five coming in a fourth quarter in which Little Elm outscored Braswell 24-17.
Braswell led by nine points on three separate occasions during the third quarter, but Little Elm continued to fire away.
Brian Hunter Jr., a senior, made the last quarter of his high school career count, scoring 12 of his 17 points during the frame, including a 3-pointer with 3:19 remaining that gave the Lobos a 63-56 lead.
“One thing that I learned when I moved out here is that Little Elm teams don’t quit,” Parker said. “They fight and they fight until there are zeroes across the board. We showed that tonight.”