It’s not the title they crave the most, but call the Midway Panthers the Waco city champions.
With a victory over Waco High already in their pockets, the Panthers’ boys basketball team added another over crosstown rival in University on Tuesday at the UHS Gym. Midway shook off some holiday break rust to spurn University, 50-40, and stay unbeaten on the season.
Second-year Midway coach Brad Chasteen faced the tall order of having to replace some key pieces off last year’s 26-7 playoff team, including Sam Houston State signee Bubba Furlong and McLennan Community College freshman Xavier Armstead. The good news for Midway is that after a full year in Chasteen’s system, the Panthers have a better understanding of the coach’s expectations.
“There should be. I don’t know if we showed it tonight,” Chasteen said. “But some of it, and I don’t know if this is an excuse, but I left them take from Wednesday morning to (Monday) morning off. We had some turkey legs, and I’m not sure University didn’t do the same thing. We’ve been executing better than we did tonight in some other games, but we’ll take the win.”
Hyperkinetic sophomore point guard Anthony Scott led all scorers with 17 points, while heady shooting guard Diego Gonzalez chipped in 15 for Midway (6-0). But University (0-5) – which held the No. 1 ranking in Class 5A much of last season but graduated the vast majority of that team, including Super Centex Player of the Year Umoja Gibson – hung tough, creating problems with its active pressure defense.
Midway led 14-8 after a quarter following a Levi Whiddon 13-foot jumper from the high post and another wild sequence that demonstrated the sheer relentlessness of Scott. The speedy guard drove to the hoop in the waning moments of the quarter only to miss a contested layup. But he didn’t give up on the play and swiped the ball back from a University player before stepping behind the 3-point line for an all-net jumper.
After that quarter, University coach Tarl Lloyd beckoned his team during the timeout, “Hey, we’ve got to keep this close. We can’t let them get way ahead by halftime.”
The Trojans heeded their coach’s advice. University produced a stretch of inspired play in the second quarter, sparked in part by the pinpoint passing of senior guard Justin Williams. Last season Williams filled a different role for a deeper University team, as a slasher and sneaky gatherer of offensive boards. But his best contribution against Midway was threading the needle for several left-handed fastball deliveries to La’darious Young creeping around the basket.
“He’s the guy,” Lloyd said. “He adds so much to us and takes so much pressure off of Derek (Hopkins). Derek’s kind of the guy who’s had to do all of that, and now you add Justin there. He’s the one who can help us a lot. Now Derek can score more. I’ve been having to facilitate and all this, now I’ve got big J in there. … And the guys were ready. When he passed the ball, they were ready. So I was surprised a couple of times they caught it.”
University rallied to tie the game at 19 on a Hopkins 3-pointer from the wing with 1:32 to play in the half, and then took its first lead since early in the first quarter when Tyrin Archibald faked a trey and penetrated baseline for a layup. Such plays helped University take a 23-21 lead into the halftime break.
Midway adjusted, cranking up the defensive screws in the third quarter. The Panthers played with a lively energy, and it resulted in some runout breakaways for the likes of Scott and Gonzalez.
“We decided at halftime to stop tricking up our defense and just get in a man, staying more solid defensively,” Midway’s Chasteen said. “We were more active and we took it more serious and more personal. The second quarter, I didn’t know who my team was.
“But to their credit, on the road, the neighborhood game, University’s got their first chance at a win, and we held them off. So we did all right.”
The Panthers outscored University 18-10 in the quarter to snag a six-point advantage going into the final period. Lloyd said that third quarter was a killer for his team, which hasn’t yet developed the offensive efficiency necessary to withstand such surges.
“The third quarter killed us. They scored what – 18? That’s too many,” Lloyd said. “What’d they end up with, 50? They almost scored half their points in one quarter. And we’ve been playing real good defense. We just broke down. … Our goal is to give up 50 or less. So we’ve been close to our goal defensively. Offensively, our goal is to shoot the ball 60 times a game. We’re not coming close.”
The Trojans stayed within arm’s length in the fourth quarter, trailing only 44-40 with two minutes to play. But Midway was able to get to the line for a couple of trips and at least split a pair to extend the gap, whereas University suffered from numerous empty trips to the foul line, shooting just 4 for 10 for the game.
Hopkins and Young topped the Trojans with nine points apiece.
Despite the loss, the fact that the Trojans remained competitive with an unbeaten 6A team gives Lloyd hope for the rest of the season.
“These guys came from the freshman team and the JV team, and man, I tell you what, it’s so much fun for me to see them kind of come together at this stage of my career,” said Lloyd, in the first year of his second stint with University after previously coaching the Trojans from 1989-2000. “To start from scratch and get them to try to come together. We really feel like by the time we get to our tournament season and by the time district rolls around, we’re going to be pretty competitive.”
As for Midway, Chasteen sees his team as a work in progress as well, albeit one with an unblemished record.
“I’m really pumped with how we’re doing without the football kids,” Chasteen said. “We’ve got four seniors coming from football who can all play. So for us to be 6-0 and kind of be improving every week, it’s going to be an interesting year. We’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”