TYLER -- John Tyler coach Mike Smith knew his team could not afford to fall behind early in their rematch with unbeaten Lufkin.

The seventh-ranked Lady Lions grabbed a sizable first-quarter lead and were able to hold off No. 5 Lufkin for a hard-fought 42-39 win Friday night at the Lions Den, handing the Lady Panthers their first loss of the season.

John Tyler (24-2, 6-1) pulled even in the loss column with Lufkin (24-1, 7-1) in the District 16-5A standings.

"Last time when we went up there we dug ourselves a hole, we were down 20-7 and we had to fight back the next three quarters," Smith said. "So our start was critical, and I was real proud of the way we started."

If John Tyler and Lufkin were both to win out, a coin flip would decide the district's No. 1 seed for the playoffs, which could prove awfully important with top-ranked Mansfield Timberview also in Region II.

"Now we know that if we take care of business and they take care of business it's a co-championship, and we flip for seeding," Smith said. "At least it gives us a chance to go in as the No. 1 seed."

John Tyler began the game on a 9-2 run, but never led Lufkin by more than eight points. Lufkin took its first lead of the game in the final two minutes of the third quarter, and went up again midway through the fourth.

"It was as hard fought of a ballgame as could be played, I think," Smith said. "It was a playoff atmosphere, and I think our kids and their kids rose to the occasion. They had a zone ready for us, and we had a zone ready for them. It changed the dynamics of the game to a low-scoring game, and I think the kids just adjusted. Our kids showed a lot of character and I'm just real proud of them."

Lady Lions senior guard Ashtyn Beal led three JT players in double figures with 12 points to go along with five rebounds and three steals. Alyssa Mayfield added 10 points and eight boards, while Destini Whitehead finished with 10 points, which included three 3-pointers.

Daz Johnson scored five points and grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds, helping John Tyler remain competitive on the glass with a much bigger Lufkin team, which finished with a plus-three margin in rebounding.

"When you're playing Lufkin and the size that they have -- and their big girls are not just big, they're good -- we knew that we had to get position on them," Smith said. "We couldn't afford to give up the second-chance and third-chance points that we gave up before. They scored 16 second-chance points last time. Our kids really focused on that, and all the credit goes to them and the job they did being outsized underneath."

Lufkin senior post NaTasha Mack, a Houston signee, led the Lady Panthers with 15 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks.

JaKayla Suell's jumper gave Lufkin a 36-35 lead with 4:02 remaining in the fourth, but John Tyler quickly responded on a Mayfield layup and 3-pointer from Whitehead, which put the Lady Lions back in front, 40-36, with 2:12 to play.

Lufkin cut the deficit to 40-39 with a little more than a minute remaining, and then opted to put JT guard Kaleon Grant on the free-throw line with 31 seconds to go. Grant knocked down both foul shots, and JT was able to keep Lufkin from sending the game into overtime on the other end.

"We were trying to slow the game down a little bit," Smith said. "(Grant) just stepped up like a champion and made both free throws."

John Tyler travels to Nacogdoches next Tuesday night, while Lufkin is back in action next Friday at home against Nacogdoches.

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No. 7 John Tyler 42, No. 5 Lufkin 39

District 16-5A Girls Basketball
At Lions Den, Tyler

Lufkin                   8    11    11      9    --    39
John Tyler          13      9    10    10    --    42

LUFKIN (24-1, 7-1) -- NaTasha Mack, 15; Mycah McDonald, 8; Shay Brooks, 4; KeKe Cleveland, 4; JaKayla Suell, 4; Alexis Hood, 2; Diamond Johnson, 2.
JOHN TYLER (24-2, 6-1) -- Ashtyn Beal, 12; Alyssa Mayfield, 10; Destini Whitehead, 10; Daz Johnson, 5; Kaleon Grant, 2; Brea Staten, 2; Kaleigh Hackett, 1.
THREE-POINT GOALS -- Lufkin: Brooks. John Tyler: Whitehead (3), Beal.