BRYAN — Shelbyville already held the title of defending state champion. In another week, it would surprise no one if the Dragons have a new title to defend.

Behind a combined 48 points from their senior studs Jay Buckley and Jordan Boykins, the Dragons cooked Crawford, 74-61, in the Region III-2A semifinals on Friday night at Bryan High School’s Viking Gym. Shelbyville (35-3) continues on to Saturday’s 1 p.m. regional final against Grapeland, while Crawford ceases a special season at 25-7.

Buckley and Boykins scored 24 points apiece, with each putting on a show worthy of a curtain call. But Crawford coach Brent Elmore had every reason to praise his team, which trailed by as many as 29 points but kept scratching and clawing in the fourth quarter to cut the gap to 11 at one point.

“That’s why I love coaching where I do,” Elmore said. “They never quit, they never stop, they never think they’re out of a game no matter how bad it is. They proved it tonight. Down almost 30, I think, and to battle back. We got it within 11, that’s just a testament to these kids and that’s why I love coaching them so much.”

In the opening quarter, Boykins was a fire-breathing Dragon, because he came out as hot as you could be. Wearing a thick brace on his left knee, Boykins didn’t move particularly smoothly, but then again, he really didn’t need to. Catching the ball several feet behind the 3-point arc, Boykins just kept firing up 3-pointers and finding nothing but net. He hit his first four shots from distance, and went 5-for-6 in the opening quarter.

Nevertheless, Crawford managed to mostly keep pace through the first period. Tate Abel’s able, crafty weaves to the basket proved effective, and the Pirates also moved the ball crisply to find the open man for easy buckets near the hoop.

Even after Boykins splashed in his fifth 3-pointer of the quarter, Shelbyville led by only two points at 15-13. The Dragons extended that gap to 17-13 by the end of the period when Jay Buckley pump-faked a Crawford defender off his feet and scored inside.

But as the game progressed, the tempo quickened, and that faster beat benefited the Dragons.

“I think once they started pressing us. They started speeding us up,” Elmore said. “We struggled a little bit with it, and then once we did get it into half-court, we pressed offensively, took some really fast shots. We knew going in that we had to play fundamental basketball on the offensive end, had to make them work on their defensive end, and we didn’t do that early on. It hurt us. They were able to transition and play their game, and once they started doing that they got on a roll.”

That basket at the end of the first quarter seemed to loosen up Buckley, as he took over show-stopping duties from Boykins in the second quarter. He opened the period on a personal 7-0 run, as his ballhandling and penetration gave the Pirate defense problems.

Stephen Weatherman provided a spark off the bench for the Pirates, and his jumper in the lane with 2:14 left in the half narrowed the gap to 31-21. But Buckley finished the half with a burst, exploding for nine more points in a 9-4 Dragon run, including a 25-foot, totally wet jumper that gave him his first 3-pointer of the night. Buckley actually outscored Crawford by himself, 16-12, in that second quarter.

Shelbyville continued to supply a variety of bombs and runouts in the second half, forcing Crawford into some uncharacteristic turnovers. By the time LD Coleman dropped in a trap-beating layup early in the fourth quarter, the Dragons had stretched the lead to 29 at 66-37.

Eventually, Shelbyville coach David Schmidt pulled his starters with about five minutes to go, and Crawford dialed up its own level of pressure on the Dragon reserves. The Pirates closed the game on a 24-8 surge, fueled in large part to Abel’s relentless drives to the rim.

Abel finished with a team-best 16 points for Crawford in his final high school game. Afterward, Elmore couldn’t praise his seniors enough – Abel, Jed Whitney, Stephen Weatherman and Dawson Mannes.

“We lost some good leaders last year, and these guys really stepped in and filled that role,” Elmore said. “Jed and Tate being starters, Stephen and Dawson coming off the bench, role players. But they were always there for each other, always there for the younger kids, because we had a very diverse team, with one junior, two sophomores and three freshmen. To allow all of them in and play as a team, it was a heck of a year, proud of these kids.”

Sophomore big man Cole Reid gave Crawford some strong interior play, finishing with 14 points, 14 rebounds and a blocked shot. Whitney scored eight points and Trey Dobie added seven points and five rebounds.

Houston Yates 75, China Spring 46

HUNTSVILLE – China Spring held the high-powered Lions well below their average, but it wasn’t enough to extend the Cougars’ season.

Yates took a 27-4 lead after one quarter, and rode that big lead to a win in the Region III-4A semifinals at Sam Houston State’s Johnson Coliseum. China Spring concludes its season at 27-12 with its first regional tournament appearance since 1989.

Yates came in averaging 117 points in the playoffs, relying on a frenetic trapping defense designed to get quick runouts on the other end. The Lions showed that hyperactive ability from the outset, as they scored 23 of the game’s first 25 points.

Once China Spring got its bearings after that rough first quarter, it played the Lions much tougher. Yates outscored the Cougars just 48-44 in the final three quarters.

Eli Stephens turned in yet another sparkling performance, as the junior guard tossed in 28 points to lead China Spring.

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