McKINNEY — Just as it appeared Frisco’s boys basketball team had restored momentum early in the fourth quarter of Monday’s Class 5A bi-district playoff game, McKinney North responded in short order.
And head coach Darryll Craft had one of his key reserves to thank for a potential season-saving spark.
“Elijah Alexander, no doubt about it,” Craft said on how his Bulldogs regained control of Monday’s 52-44 win over the Raccoons.
With Frisco leading 34-30 with 7:00 remaining in the fourth quarter on Monday, North closed the ballgame on a 22-10 run with Alexander, the team’s backup point guard, as the catalyst.
As the Bulldogs mounted their surge, Alexander scored seven of North’s first 10 points of the final quarter. He drained a 3-pointer from the left wing and then attacked the teeth of Frisco’s defense for a pair of tough finishes at the rim that paved a 40-34 lead with 4:10 to play in the contest.
“He brings a lot of energy and was so physical taking it to the rim,” Craft said. “He’s out there doing his job. He’s a sub and knows he won’t get a ton of minutes, but he gets after it and does his job.”
With Alexander greeted with applause as he exited the floor later in the frame, the rest was left up North’s defense and free-throw shooting to seal the win. The Bulldogs thrived in both areas — although Frisco began the fourth quarter strong with a 3-pointer from freshman Micah Robinson with 7:10 remaining, the Raccoons sank just two more shots from the field the rest of the way.
“We just didn’t shoot the ball very well tonight. We didn’t adjust as well to their physical presence as I thought we would,” said Andrew Steele, Frisco head coach. “It’s something we’ve fought all year long — when the shots are falling, we play with a lot of confidence. When we have to rely on our defense, it’s been 50-50.”
North’s defense had some say in that as well. The Bulldogs baited the Raccoons into 10 second-half turnovers, several caused by disrupting Frisco’s passing lanes around the perimeter and into the post. Senior Jamien Hopkins was active on that end with four steals in Monday’s win.
“We have one physical big and some other athletes who can make those passing lanes tough,” Craft said. “When we did, we made them force some tough passes and were able to get some run-outs.”
While Frisco struggled from the field, North kept the Raccoons at bay behind shooting 10-of-12 on free throws in the fourth quarter. Junior CJ Wilson and senior JJ Henry drained five apiece from the charity stripe during that stretch, with Wilson leading all Bulldogs with 14 points. Henry added seven points and three assists.
Robinson tallied 14 points of his own to pace Frisco, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking two shots in his playoff debut. He punctuated the third quarter with a jumper to give Frisco a 31-30 lead and raced to the other end of the floor to block a Henry layup off the backboard just before the buzzer. Robinson went on to account for two of his team’s three made field goals in the fourth quarter.
“He’s just an intelligent young man. He has an understanding of what all five players on the floor are supposed to be doing,” Steele said. “He has a real good feel for the game and with his physical presence, as only a freshman, it’s exciting to see where he’s going to go over these next three years.”
Frisco senior Jovani Benae added 10 points and junior Rocco Paul scored seven on a night when the Raccoons scored their second-fewest points of the season. Frisco tallied one more point on Monday than it did on Dec. 1 in a 43-36 victory over none other than North.
“It’s always good to win one in the playoffs. Every team in the Metroplex is so tough and it’s going to be such a great battle,” Craft said. “They beat us earlier, but they’re a lot better now than they were and I think the same goes for us.”
The Bulldogs showed as much early on, erasing an early 7-2 hole thanks to the work inside by the junior frontcourt of Dylan Frazier and Aidan Partee. Funneling most its offense through Frazier, who scored seven points in the win, North logged six offensive rebounds in the first half alone and used those second-chance opportunities to open a 23-20 lead at halftime. Junior Josh Pearre also had a say by scoring nine of the Bulldogs’ 12 points in the second quarter.
“We wanted to let the jitters calm down a bit and get the ball in the basket early, and [Frazier] the best place we’ve got to go to get that done,” Craft said.
The win advances North to the area round for a meeting with Newman Smith, which topped Spruce 79-32 in its first-round matchup, at a time and place to be determined. The Raccoons, meanwhile, head into their offseason after compiling a 17-8 record and placing third in District 9-5A.
Frisco graduates seven players from its roster but returns three starters in Robinson, Paul and junior Mason Wujek.
“It’s crazy. I don’t now that I’ve been as exhausted as I am right now,” Steele said. “Between dealing with COVID, rescheduling games and then the weather hits, most of the Frisco facilities haven’t been usable. We’ve had to go practice at Fieldhouse USA, the Frisco Athletic Center and Lawler Middle School all to get ready for a playoff game. It’s just the condition of the moment, but it’s exhausting.
“But I’m proud of the guys for how they handled it all. I don’t if we ever got to where I wanted us to be defensively, but in games where we made shots we were pretty hard to beat.”