McKinney vs. Jesuit

Despite 22 points from sophomore Ja'Kobe Walter, left, McKinney fell short in Thursday's area-round playoff game against Jesuit, 64-60.

COPPELL — After winning its final 13 games of the regular season, including a clean sweep of District 5-6A, the McKinney boys basketball team carried great expectations into the postseason. That made the outcome of Thursday’s area-round matchup against Jesuit that much more difficult to stomach for head coach Wes Watson and the Lions.

It materialized in a way McKinney, ranked No. 8 in Class 6A by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, couldn’t have foreseen — an offense that rampaged through its schedule to the tune of more than 70 points per game failed to find the bottom of the net over the final 4:25 of the fourth quarter on Thursday.

An upset-minded Ranger squad capitalized to the tune of an 11-0 run to close out the night and seal a 64-60 win to spell the end of the Lions’ season.

“I was not expecting to walk into a losing locker room tonight,” Watson said. “I don’t know what to say. This hurts more than any loss I’ve ever had, because this is the best team we’ve ever had. This one will hurt for a long, long time.”

It was a somber walk to the back of Coppell’s gymnasium for McKinney, which suffered its first loss since Dec. 18 and fell short of its first regional quarterfinal appearance since 2015.

Although Jesuit hung tough every step of the way, the Lions had a three-possession edge with 4:25 left in the fourth quarter after a corner 3-pointer from junior Devin Vincent spotted McKinney a 60-53 advantage — a basket that marked the final points of the season for the Lions.

“I think we struggled understanding time and score,” Watson said. “I’ll take full responsibility for not making our guys understand that and for not putting us in a better position to close the game. We knew it was going to be a tough game. We know they’ve got the ability to hit some big shots.”

That held true inside the game’s final two minutes. With McKinney leading 60-55, the Rangers drained back-to-back 3-pointers, both courtesy of Cal Linn, to take a 61-60 lead with 45 seconds to play. 

After the Lions missed their chance at a go-ahead response, Jesuit upped the count 63-60 after expertly breaking the McKinney press and finding Linn for an open layup that had a raucous Ranger student section buzzing with 25 ticks to go.

It was a sequence that typified Jesuit’s call to action on Thursday — the Rangers used their ball-handling and passing to subdue McKinney’s length and athleticism and create a wealth of open looks, be it inside the paint or from beyond the arc. The long ball worked in the Rangers’ favor plenty as they converted 10 3-pointers in the win, including six by Linn, who scored a game-high 25 points. Conor Moore added 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Gavin Perryman tallied 11 points (three 3-pointers) and nine assists.

“Every kid on their team can shoot the ball, but [Linn] and [Perryman] can really hurt you,” Watson said. “I thought we did a good job of making Gavin work for everything. He’s an incredible competitor. But we let [Linn] get loose one too many times and then he got a few offensive rebounds as well.”

Despite the three-point deficit, McKinney managed to generate a turnover in the game’s waning seconds for a last-ditch attempt at a tie. A pull-up from deep missed the mark, and a free throw on the other end by Camden Roy sealed the end of a fourth quarter where the Rangers outscored McKinney, 15-6.

“This one will sting for a long time. I’m not trying to feel sorry for myself or for us,” Watson said. “Jesuit earned this one. This just isn’t what I expected that I’d be doing tonight.”

For a while, it looked like McKinney would stave off Jesuit’s upset bid. Although the Rangers came out swinging for a 19-15 lead after converting more than 50% of their shots from the field, the Lions settled in and claimed a 34-32 lead at the half. Sophomore Ja’Kobe Walter took control with an array of mid-range pull-up jumpers to steady the tide for McKinney — the Lions’ leading scorer ripped off 12 of his team-high 22 points in the second quarter.

Walter had help from junior Alex Anamekwe, who knocked down a trio of 3-pointers on his way to 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Vincent tallied 12 points on an efficient 5-of-8 from the field.

But any time the Lions looked ready to shift gears, Jesuit had a response. McKinney built its largest lead in the third quarter as part of a 9-0 run for a 50-42 lead that included a number of energetic sequences on defense. The Rangers countered with a 7-2 jolt to stay afloat.

Even with a seven-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, as McKinney attempted to slow the tempo, Jesuit never let their opponents get comfortable by extending its defense and baiting the Lions into multiple turnovers.

“Theoretically, when you get a seven-point lead and they have to come out further from the basket to guard us that it would play to our favor,” Watson said. “I just don’t think we were patient enough offensively. There’s nothing wrong with making a few extra passes. We just didn’t value our offensive possessions as well as we should have down the stretch.”

McKinney ends its season at 25-3 overall, including a perfect 12-0 mark in district play. The Lions are projected to return their entire starting lineup for next season but will graduate several key seniors from their bench.

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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