CORSICANA – There is no speed limit sign posted anywhere in Corsicana’s Tiger Gym.
No matter – Connally would have ignored it anyway.
The Cadets used a steady supply of high-velocity drives to the basket to race past Athens, 88-70, in the Region III-4A boys’ basketball quarterfinals on Tuesday night. Connally (26-12) moves on to face seventh-ranked Houston Yates in the regional semifinals at 6:15 p.m. Friday at Sam Houston State’s Johnson Coliseum in Huntsville.
Connally’s longtime district rival La Vega will join the Cadets in Huntsville, as the Pirates will meet No. 1-ranked Silsbee in the other semifinal.
The Cadets’ relentless attitude in taking it to the bucket was personified in junior point guard Trajan Snell. One of the better passers in Central Texas if not the state, Snell turned the game into a personal layup drill, as he frequently called his own number on forays to the basket and finished with a game-high 33 points.
“That’s the key, finishing,” said Connally coach Quinton Snell, Trajan’s father. “Just like we told all of them, including him, when you drive, you’re driving to score, you’re not driving to dish. He was doing that earlier in the year, but he’s driving to score now. We’ve got some other guys doing the same thing as well.”
The teams aggressively went after one another throughout, producing fast and furious action from the start. Both teams looked to push the tempo at every juncture, turning the game into a basketball version of the Daytona 500. When Athens guard Javiry Bowman squirted loose for a breakaway layup at the first-quarter buzzer following a Connally turnover, the Cadets held a slim 19-17 lead.
But in the second quarter, Connally began to gain some separation thanks in part to its scrambling hustle defensively. At one point, Korie Black charged to the hoop for a runner in traffic, then immediately poked away the inbounds pass and scored another layup, giving the Cadets a 32-23 advantage.
Trajan Snell said the Cadets knew that the Hornets would try to turn the game into a track meet, so they had to be ready for that.
“Kind of just creating, in the moment,” the guard said. “We knew that they would try to give up layups so that they could get back on offense real fast. So we just kept attacking and attacking, and we got back on defense. It just all worked out for us.”
Equipped with better than 20-20 court vision, Snell has a knack for finding teammates for open 3-pointers or for driving layups after a sharp cut. But on this night he went hard to the cup and fed his own scoring appetite, including delivering a smooth crossover and scoop late in the second quarter that gave the Cadets a 41-29 lead at the break.
“If it there’s, just go get it,” Trajan Snell said. “If it’s not, then we can kick it out. A layup is a higher percentage shot than the 3, so if it’s there we’re going to take it.”
Athens, led by its junior forward Gary Lyons (25 points), never stopped scrapping. The Hornets twice cut Connally’s lead to single digits in the third quarter.
And yet the Cadets weathered the storm, including an outbreak of chippiness at the end of the third quarter following a in-air collision between the Cadets’ Sidney Hadden and Athens’ Chris Taylor, who were both leaping for an inbounds pass. Athens was hit with two technical fouls and Connally with one after arguing with the officials, and Taylor was slow to get up and had to be helped from the court. The junior guard did return later in the fourth quarter.
Connally played a savvy game, and didn’t let the Hornets get in their heads. The Cadets were dynamic offensively, scoring on a variety of runners and floaters and backdoor cuts in addition to the occasional kickout trey from Hadden.
Mostly, they were unselfish, and Athens couldn’t keep up, as the Hornets never got any closer than 11 points in the fourth quarter, despite booming away from 3-point land. Connally closed the game on a 7-0 run.
“I think it’s always good that can pass and share the basketball,” Quinton Snell said. “Speaking of Tray, that’s kind of what he does, and it kind of filters down to everyone else. Other than that, I think that’s the way you’re supposed to play. You have to share the ball. If there’s a guy open for a really good shot, you need to get it to him. It doesn’t matter who you are.”
Despite Trajan Snell’s huge scoring night, three other Cadets joined him in double figures, as Maalik Cooper scored 14 points while Black and Hadden swished in 10 apiece. Je’juan Forward finished a point shy of double-digits, with nine.
Junior guard Miles Koehler made some strong flourishes to the hoop and finished with 17 points for Athens, and Bowman added 15.
Following the final horn, the Cadets tossed the ball high into the air, and met one another in a clapping, hollering huddle. For Connally, it’s on to Huntsville and the challenges of the regional tournament.
Quinton Snell has been there before, in past seasons, and he’s looking forward to a return engagement.
“Anytime you can make it to the fourth round and make it to Huntsville in this region, I think it’s really exciting and a really good thing for our kids,” he said.