TYLER -- In a battle for sole possession of first place in District 16-5A, the speed of John Tyler ultimately wore down the size and strength of Lufkin.

The Lions erupted for 47 second-half points, pulling away from No. 15 Lufkin for a 72-57 victory Friday night at a jam-packed Lions Den. JT (18-4, 6-0) pulled one full game head of the Panthers (22-4, 5-1) atop the league.

"It was a big game but I feel like these kids have put in the work and we had a great week of practice and preparation, and it showed tonight," said John Tyler coach Cedeno Clark.

JT led by just four points at halftime, 25-21, but used an 8-0 run midway through the third quarter to built a double-digit lead. The Lions' advantage ultimately reached 21 points in the fourth.

"We just buckled down defensively," Clark said of his second-half adjustments. "The focus is always to rebound the basketball even though we knew we were smaller than they were: heart and determination. And not settling for the 3-point shot as much, I think we took too many 3-pointers in the first half. I'm always telling them you can't win unless you shoot the ball, but don't settle for bad shots when really that's not our strength."

Lions senior forward Jacob Owens-Bush finished with a game-high 21 points -- 16 in the second half -- to go with six rebounds. Junior point guard Bryson Smith added 18 points -- 13 after halftime -- with five rebounds and four assists.

Smith was instrumental in helping John Tyler seize control in the third. He scored or assisted on all of JT's points in the 8-0 spurt that pushed Lions' lead to 38-25, and scored 10 points in the third period alone.

"The whole season we've been struggling in the second quarter," Smith said. "We told ourselves coming out of halftime that we just have to go hard and be the aggressor. We can't let teams come at us, we've got to go at them."

Once again, despite being outsized, John Tyler was able to hold its own on the glass. Lufkin finished with a slim 32-31 edge in rebounding.

"When it comes to getting rebounds it's not about how big you are or how fast you are, it's about how bad you want it," Smith said.

Christopher Lyles added 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers for John Tyler.

Lufkin was led in defeat by Kenan Jackson, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds. Royce Kenebrew hit three 3-pointers and had 11 points, three boards and two assists.

Lufkin went to the full-court press for much of the second half, which John Tyler was able to successfully break, allowing for easy points underneath the basket.

"That was one of our focuses, limiting our turnovers, and we took care of the basketball," Clark said. "And we were able to get some easy buckets down there once we broke (the press) in the backcourt."

Smith's speed at the point guard position was on full display.

"I'm constantly challenging him and pushing him to the limit, and telling him how good he can be if he gets into the mindset that nobody can really guard him on the floor," Clark said of Smith. "You've got to have that mindset to where nobody can really guard him and you saw that once we spread the floor out and had those guys in space out there. They couldn't stay in front of him, and once he got into attack mode, it was hard to defend him when he was getting to the basket."

Lufkin is off Tuesday and returns to action next Friday night at home against rival Nacogdoches. John Tyler, meanwhile, travels to Nacogdoches on Tuesday night.

"We're still striving to get better," Clark said. "Nobody said anything about this game back in August, so it's another game for us to achieve the goals we set forth. Of course the fans and media are going to pump it up to be a big game, but it was another game that we had to win."


John Tyler 72, No. 15 Lufkin 57

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

Lufkin                  9    12    13    23    --    57
John Tyler          16      9    23    24    --    72

LUFKIN (22-4, 5-1) -- Kenan Jackson, 12; Royce Kenebrew, 11; Cameron Hart, 9; Courtnee Garcia, 8; Jaylon Calvin, 7; RJ Jones, 4; JeQuarius Houston, 2; Kordell Rodgers, 2; Nick Wilson, 2.
JOHN TYLER (18-4, 6-0) -- Jacob Owens-Bush, 21; Bryson Smith, 18; Christopher Lyles, 11; Patrick Williams. 5; Carlin Gray, 4; Mashaud Moore, 4; Tavian Teal, 4; Gerald Berry, 3; Jordan Allen, 2.
THREE-POINT GOALS -- Lufkin: Kenebrew (3), Garcia (2), Calvin. John Tyler: Lyles (2), Berry, Owens-Bush, Williams.