Opening the 2019-2020 season with three games in six days last week, the Houston High School boys basketball team came away with one win and two losses.
The Tigers began the campaign with a 60-55 defeat Monday at Licking, but then posted a 67-39 victory over Cuba in a dominant performance Tuesday in Hiett Gymnasium. Houston then lost to 63-56 to East Carter Saturday at the annual Current River Challenge at Van Buren, despite holding a 20-point lead in the third quarter.
COUNTY RIVALS DUKE IT OUT
Played in front of a big crowd in the Sherman Hill Field House, the county rivalry game at Licking was a tightly-contested, see-saw affair from the opening tip to the final horn. Houston took an early 5-2 lead after a layup by junior forward Ty Franklin and a 3-point basket by senior guard Clayton Moore, but the host Wildcats held a 25-15 advantage at the end of the first quarter after junior forward Wilson Murray poured in 12 points in the period.
The Tigers cut the deficit to 32-27 by halftime, and then went on an 11-3 run to retake the lead at 38-35 with 2:55 left in the third quarter. Moore led the rally by converting a trey, a short jumper and long 2-point shot, and ended up scoring 9 points in the quarter.
But Licking answered, and after senior forward Blake Payne sank a pair of free throws with 15 seconds to go in the quarter, the Wildcats were back on top at 43-40 going into the final 8 minutes.
Licking extended the lead to 10 points again at 58-48 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Tigers rallied again and trailed 59-55 after a short basket by senior guard Tristan Leier with 5 seconds left. But time ran out before Houston could do any further damage.
Moore led the Tigers in scoring with 20 points, while Ramsey finished with 10 and Franklin and sophomore forward Korbyn Tune added 8 apiece.
Murray led Licking with a game-high 27 points, while Payne scored 12 (including 10 in the third quarter).
“It’s tough to play one of your biggest rivals the first game of the year, especially on the road,” said HHS head coach Rod Gorman. “and we didn’t perform like we wanted. It was competitive and hard fought, but not the results we wanted for sure.
“We will learn from our mistakes and move forward.”
DEFENSE LEADS TO VICTORY
In Tuesday’s first home game of the season, Houston led 17-0 before Cuba scored, and the Tigers held a 19-2 advantage at the end of the first period. The onslaught was powered by defense, as the Houston’s full court pressure overwhelmed the visiting Wildcats and caused numerous turnovers. Gorman kept fresh legs on the floor by substituting freely during the decisive stretch, and six Tiger players scored.
Houston built a huge 33-9 lead on a 3-pointer by senior guard Nick Zammaron with 3:15 to go in the second period, and Cuba was down 37-16 at halftime.
The Wildcats stood strong for a while in the third quarter, but the Tigers’ defense eventually wore them down. Houston’s biggest lead of the game came when Tune connected on a short bucket with 50 seconds left.
Franklin led the Tigers’ balanced scoring with 19 points (including 8 in the third quarter), while Ramsey and Zamarron each had 10 and Moore added 9.
Senior guard Luke Elrod led Cuba with 9 points, as the Wildcats had nobody score in double-figures.
“I feel like we have a great season coming up,” Moore said. “We started out kind of slow in the first game, but we’re starting to pick it up and play good.”
Nine players scored for Houston in the win. Prior to the season, Gorman said he hoped the Tigers would spread the points around more than last year, and take a bit of the scoring burden away from Moore.
“We were able to pressure Cuba throughout the contest and turned them over multiple times which led to easy baskets,” Gorman said. “Nine guys scored for us and all 11 contributed. It was a great team win.”
“We have a really well-rounded team,” Moore said, “and everyone’s contributing.”
BIG LEAD NOT ENOUGH
The Tigers led East Carter 36-20 at halftime, and then scored the first four points of the second half to build a commanding 40-20 advantage. But the Redbirds (of Ellsinore) then took control and outscored Houston by 27 points the rest of the way, including a 25-11 fourth period.
Franklin led the Tigers in scoring with 17 points, while Moore had 14 and Ramsey added 7.
Houston shot a dismal 47-percent from the free throw line, sinking only 16-of-34 attempts.
Gorman said the loss was due to a lack of consistency.
“We just quit doing the same things that made us successful to that point,” he said. “To that point we had made shots, played defense and rebounded the ball.”
In both of the Tigers’ week one losses, they held leads in the second half.
“We have to play 32 minutes if we want to beat a good team,” Gorman said. “We’re not happy with our record, but have showed signs of being a good team. I still have lots of confidence that we will be successful.”
This week, Houston hosted Eminence on Tuesday and travels to Seymour today (Thursday).
The Tigers will be in the field of next week’s annual Mansfield Tournament. Houston is seeded third in the seven-team event, which includes top-seeded Ava, along with No. 2 Willow Springs, No. 4 Conway, No. 5 Norwood, No. 6 Mansfield and No. 7 Gainesville. The Tigers’ first game in the event is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10, against host Mansfield.