The game played out a little earlier than either team had hoped, but the M.T. Rice Tournament served up a Midway-University rematch.
This time, the only fighting was for the lead.
Midway’s Malachi Barron missed a 3-pointer from the corner with time winding down, and University survived to take down Class 6A’s eighth-ranked Panthers, 55-54, in Thursday’s third-place game at the Midway High School arena.
The last time the two teams met in late November, the game was halted in the fourth quarter when a fight broke out among the players. On Thursday, the action was competitive and the athletes played hard, but shook hands in a show of respect for one another following the game.
Both teams won their first four games of the tournament, and were hoping to meet in the championship game. But Converse Judson outlasted the Panthers in a thriller, 79-77, in one semifinal earlier Thursay, while Pearland held off a rally bid by University, 73-63, in the other semifinal matchup. Later, Pearland topped Judson for the tournament title.
The Midway-University game still produced a wild ending of sorts. It was tight throughout, but University forced Midway to play catch-up, leading at end of each of the first three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, though, the bigger Panthers worked the ball inside with more regularity, and angled their way to an eight-point lead at 48-40 with four minutes to go.
University wouldn’t buckle, however. Hot-shooting guard Umoja Gibson drained a 3-pointer to bring University within 54-50 with 1:05 on the clock. Then the Trojans came up with a steal, and senior guard Tim Wilkinson was fouled with 46 ticks to go. Just as Wilkinson was lining up to shoot, one of the officials whistled a technical foul on Midway freshman guard Anthony Scott, who was standing several feet behind Wilkinson.
“My little guy, my freshman, said, ‘Who’s got the shooter?’ And he’s not lying to me,” Midway coach Brad Chasteen said. “That’s what they heard, and they thought he was talking to the shooter. That’s a big play right there, but the bottom line is that we’ve got to turn the page.”
Wilkinson hit one of two free throws, and Gibson swished in both technical shots, cutting the Midway lead to 54-53. Plus, the Trojans retained the ball, and Gibson drew a foul on a drive with 16 seconds to go, hitting a pair of foul shots to put University in front to stay.
Gibson scored 16 points and dished out four assists, capping a big tournament for the slick-handling senior.
“He’s a special kid. Hat’s off to him,” University coach Rodney Smith said. “He’s the leader of our basketball team, and what he does, they’re going to follow. Hat’s off to that kid and hat’s off to the Trojan family. I’m very excited for the ‘Pride of the South Side.’”
Justin Williams added 14 points and 10 boards for the Trojans (15-8), and the high-flying Antoine Hailey scored 12 points.
Hard-working Midway big man Bubba Furlong topped Midway with 13 points, and his versatile senior teammate Xavier Armstead picked up 11.
Both coaches will now look to refocus their teams on the district season, hoping their teams are mentally tougher thanks to the grind of the past three days.
“We’ve won eight of 10 games that went right down to the wire, and unfortunately the two we lost were both today. So we were due,” Midway’s Chasteen said. “We’ll fix it, and we’ll have a lot of close games in district play, so we’ve got to be better prepared.”
University’s Smith echoed that sentiment.
“It builds character. It builds character when we’ve got to go down to A&M, to College Station, to Bryan Rudder,” he said. “It builds character when nobody is in the stands and their stands are over there packed, and you’ve got to go play basketball. We’re going to find ourselves in this situation again, and this one will be able to help us pull that one out.”
Pearland 73, University 63: The Oilers withstood a scoring explosion from University’s Umoja Gibson and held off the Trojans’ comeback to advance to the tournament championship game.
Pearland held a 29-24 lead at the halftime break, then opened the second half on an 11-4 run. The Oilers exploited some holes in University’s transition defense for 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 fast breaks.
Pearland pumped the lead up to 15 with three minutes left in the third quarter before University surged back. Gibson was the catalyst, as the senior guard consistently broke the Oilers down off the dribble for buckets or passes to flashing teammates.
University cut the gap to 49-44 with 1:06 left in the third when Gibson penetrated into the lane and flipped in a bank shot over the defense. But Pearland fought back, and took a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter when Colen James drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
In the fourth, Gibson, who led all scorers with 32 points, continued to fuel the Trojans’ rally. With 3:59 to play, he helped the Trojans cut Pearland’s lead to 60-59 when he danced around a defender before lobbing an alley-oop pass to a cutting Antoine Hailey.
However, Pearland forced several University turnovers in the final minutes, and Gibson fouled out with 1:31 to play, effectively ending the Trojans’ hopes.
James scored 19 points to pace Pearland, while his backcourt mate Javonne Lowery added 18.
For University, Hailey complemented Gibson’s big day with 15 points of his own. Gibson poured in 24 of his 32 points in the second half.