Missing Player, Missing Points Add Suspense In No. 6 Center’s Win At Rusk
RUSK -- Center loosely managed to push its season beyond district play Friday in what officially went down as a 57-49 win against Rusk at Eagle Coliseum.
The first-place Roughriders can now do no worse than tie for District 16-4A's fourth and final postseason berth at the end of the regular season. They've got the games in hand to survive a total meltdown in the second half of league play and time to adjust to any catastrophic injury with the assurance of a fourth-place, play-in game at minimum.
"We are happy to be 4-0 in the district, but I'm not going to sleep any easier," coach Hiram Harrison said after his squad's up-and-down performance at the exact midway point of the league schedule. "Those other district teams will be coming at us a second time trying to secure a spot themselves. We've got to continue to play and we've got Henderson coming to town. I'm looking for a good game against them."
Harrison's squad, ranked sixth in this week's Texas Association of Basketball Coaches' Class 4A poll, encountered a program hoping to get some traction after a strong non-district finish and yet three straight losses to open district play in the five-team league.
Circumstance set a nice table for Rusk (12-9, 0-4), aside from the obvious confidence boost that comes with downing the sixth-ranked team in the state to begin a must-win scenario down the stretch.
Center (25-4, 4-0) released star point guard Octavius Evans from the game so he could take an official college visit in Boise, Idaho. Boise State's football program recently gave him a full-ride scholarship offer as a wide receiver, and National Signing Day is Wednesday.
It took the Roughriders some time to get their bearings without the player most capable of working around and slicing up Rusk's 2-3 zone. They committed 10 of 18 turnovers in the first half and were initially reduced to taking long-range shots and forfeiting offensive rebounds.
Rusk, which opened the game on a 6-0 run, led 26-19 at halftime and owned a 10-point lead around the five-minute mark of the third quarter.
Two things allowed Center back into the meeting.
First, the Roughriders scored five second-chance points on a 9-3 run. Secondly, they took exception to getting hosed.
Austin Craig laid in a give-and-go basket from Ja'dus Johnson, which should have extended the run to 11-3 and pushed the score to 34-30 in favor of the Eagles. Those two points never made their way to the scoreboard.
Rusk went the other way for a basket and an official lead of 36-28.
Center scored back-to-back treys its next two times up the floor for a tie in actuality with 1:55 left in the third quarter. It trailed 36-34 on the board.
Harrison had two statisticians on his bench. They alerted the coaching staff about the scoring error as play continued.
The referees took a look at the official scorebook during the next dead ball and a longer look between the quarters, but Craig's two points simply were not there.
Two subsequent free throws by Jaterious Evans and a basket by Kaleb Parks gave the Roughriders an official lead of 38-36 at the third-quarter buzzer.
An issue moving forward was the lead shifted back to Rusk in the early minutes of the fourth period.
The game should have been tied, 40-40, but it was a 40-38 affair for the Eagles instead. Once Center got the lead back -- on a three-point play by Jaterious Evans -- it had to cling to a one-possession lead through the next five Eagles possessions.
Rusk only should have had three possessions to tie before Jaterious Evans gave the Roughriders a two-possession lead. Instead, Center held a 43-40 advantage at that point.
The Eagles erroneously were back within two points under the two-minute mark. Fortunately, the game worked itself out for good on an 8-2 closing run for Center.
"Kids on the bench and the kids on the floor, we did take it kind of personally," Harrison said. "We needed some help tonight. Our kids responded well."
Jaterious Evans led the Roughriders with 14 points and recorded seven rebounds as well as four steals. Jamonie Nash scored 11 points for second-place on the score sheet.
Parks rounded out official double-digit scorers for Center. He scored five baskets, blocked three shots, earned three steals and won five rebounds during the contest.
Austin Craig scored nine points, but he should have been awarded 11.
Anthony Hunter, Darrian McDuff and Trevor Lee hit double digits for Rusk with 13, 12 and 10 points respectively.
The Eagles are the lone district team out of the postseason picture at the midway point. A win Tuesday at Tatum plus a Center win at home against Henderson would elevate Rusk into a tie for fourth place with three regular season games to play afterward.
"Henderson will be a tough game," Harrison said. "We should have Octavius back, and he should be able to calm the kids down. He's a big help on the bench and on the floor. We're definitely looking forward to having him back."
No. 6 Center 57, Rusk 49
At Eagle Coliseum, Rusk
Center 9 10 19 19 -- 57
Rusk 8 18 10 13 -- 49
Center (24-5, 4-0) -- Jaterious Evans 14, Jamonie Nash 11, Kaleb Parks 10, Austin Craig 9 (11), Jamarh Johnson 6, Ja'dus Johnson 4, Kyle Parks 3.
Rusk (12-9, 0-4) -- Anthony Hunter 13, Darrian McDuff 12, Trevor Lee 10, Jake Hugghins 7, Joseph Francis 5, Koby Henry 2.
THREE-POINT GOALS -- Center: Nash (2), Craig, Kyle Parks. Rusk: McDuff (3), Francis, Hugghins.