Although it’s still early in district play for area basketball teams, the University Trojans desperately needed a win to get out of an 18-5A slump when the rival Waco Lions came calling.

The Trojans showed gumption — and that they might not be out of the 18-5A race just yet — by making plays down the stretch to defeat Waco High, 60-56, on Friday night at the University High School gym.

The two Waco ISD varsity basketball programs swapped the lead nine times in a gym packed with fans of both schools.

Waco High (15-10, 2-2 in 18-5A) appeared to grab the momentum midway through the fourth quarter when reserve guard Jordan Fuller hit a 3-pointer from the left side. Fuller’s trey capped a 5-0 mini run and put the Lions in front 47-46 with 3:42 left.

But University guard Justin Williams answered on the Trojans’ ensuing trip down the floor. Williams nailed a 3-pointer from near the top of the key to put University back in the lead. More importantly, it kicked off a 10-2 spurt that helped the Trojans take control in the closing minutes.

“For Justin to come back down and hit that 3, it was valuable,” University coach Tarl Lloyd said. “You can’t tell how important it was. Our guys just picked it right back up again.”

Williams finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and a handful of assists to lead University (8-14, 1-3). Trojans forward Qua’veon Mitchell manned the interior as he scored 18 and grabbed eight boards.

Guards Tyric Crosby and Jimmy Veal each scored 16 to lead Waco High.

However, University successfully employed a 2-3 zone defense for most of the contest to minimize the Lions’ driving ability. Unlike on Tuesday night, when Waco High coach Earl Farley directed his team into a four-corners stall to attempt to pull Bryan out of a zone, the Lions attempted to attack University’s 2-3 look.

The Trojans responded by creating havoc in the passing lanes, causing 14 turnovers.

“Our kids really played defense well,” Lloyd said. “We’ve been playing against people that are trying to get to the paint, but when we make a mistake, they kick it back out for the 3. Tonight, we were able to get hands in the passing lane.”

University lost its first three district contests and teetered on the edge of falling into a deep hole in the playoff hunt despite being only in the first half of circuit play.

Instead, the Trojans used Waco High’s visit to get focused.

“What helped us a little too, it was a district rival,” Lloyd said. “We had to finish a game. We’ve been playing close games, but we haven’t been finishing. So I think just the crowd and the district rivalry kind of helped propel them into four quarters of play. We had to make plays at the end of the game.”

Williams followed up his key 3-pointer by getting to the free-throw line and splitting a pair with 2:48 left. Mitchell then put back a rebound and later sunk a pair of free throws to cap the Trojans’ 10-2 run in the fourth quarter.

Veal nailed a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left to slice the University lead to two.

But Trojan guards Derek Hopkins and Williams each drained a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to keep University in front.

Veal pulled off a dramatic leaping steal of a pass followed by a fast-break pass to Crosby for a layup that gave Waco High a 28-20 lead with two minutes left in the first half.

The Lions appeared to be taking control with a 16-3 run through the first six minutes of the second quarter.

However, the Trojans responded before the break as Hopkins and Williams each made layups to keep the Lions’ lead to 28-24 at halftime.

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