Better late than never: Mesquite turns it on in the fourth to deny South Garland
DALLAS--Tuesday's playoff game between Mesquite and South Garland had the makings of an upset.
The top-seeded Skeeters won the 12-5A championship but were coming off a loss in their regular season finale a week ago. The Colonels were a team easy to overlook with their sub-.500 record but were a squad that got hot at the right time, winning five consecutive games down the stretch to claim the fourth seed out of 11-5A.
South Garland followed the recipe for an upset to the letter for much of the game, taking advantage of some cold Mesquite shooting and riding its best player, LaJohn Martin.
But when it mattered most, Mesquite refused to be denied, as Alex Cooper sparked a 16-5 run to close the game as the Skeeters pulled out a 58-47 victory in a Class 5A bi-district playoff game at Lake Highlands High School.
Mesquite (21-10) moves on to the area finals where it will play Richardson (24-10), a 79-77 winner over Plano West on Tuesday, later this week at a time and place to be determined.
After having a number of attempts trickle off the rim early, the Skeeters finally got some shots to fall. They shot 27.2 percent in the first half and were tied at 20-20, but were 13-of-24 (54 percent) in the second. For good measure, they knocked down 10-of-13 from the free throw line.
"I told the guys at halftime that we shot the ball terrible and it is still a tie game," Mesquite head coach Brian Curts said. "We were getting some good shots we just weren't knocking them down. But in the second half, I thought we started getting to the basket better and started making some of those shots."
Midway through the third quarter, Rashard Higgins knocked down a trey and Codarius Vault followed with a four-point play to give Mesquite its biggest lead of the game to that point at 35-30.
Another 3-pointer by Vault stretched the advantage to eight a few moments later, but the Colonels (11-17) refused to go away. South Garland took advantage of being in the bonus by chipping away from the free throw line and Tadarius Milliner knocked down a 3-pointer that drew them to within 42-40 with four minutes left.
That was when Cooper, who had only four points through three quarters, answered for Mesquite with a long trey of his own.
A steal on the next South Garland possession led to a dunk by Jay Wilson and the lead was quickly back to 47-40.
Cooper, who had 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, scored the next seven points and Higgins finished a fast break with a dunk to put the game away at 56-47 with 30 seconds left.
"We wanted to get the ball in his (Cooper) hands," Curts said. "His shot wasn't falling but he started taking it to the basket and made a couple of plays, had an and-1 there and knocked down a three, so he was able to find ways."
While the offense was going through its ups and downs, the Skeeter defense proved reliable all night, keeping them close in the first half and holding South Garland to just 25 percent shooting (6-of-24) during the final two quarters.
Martin, who led the Colonels with 18 points, had only seven of those after halftime and did not score from the field.
"We knew who there main guy (Martin) was and we need all five guys defending and there were a couple of times early on we didn't do that, but we did better as the game went on," Curts said. "Overall, if you hold a team to 20 points in a half and to less than 50 for the game, you're going to have a pretty good chance to win."
In addition to Cooper, Higgins had 13 points and Wilson scored 10 points and grabbed 10 points for Mesquite. Trey Jackson tallied 11 points and Milliner added nine for the Colonels.
South Garland led 11-8 after one quarter and showed it was going to hang around for a while when a putback by Johnson capped a 7-0 run that gave them a 18-10 advantage.
Jamarquez Scott scored to snap a four-minute drought for the Skeeters and they then crashed the glass with Higgins and Wilson getting second-chance points to draw to within two.
South Garland looked as if it would take the lead into halftime, but after a turnover, Scott was able to race down the floor and lay the ball in just before the buzzer sounded to tie it at 20-20.
Up next for the Skeeters is a Richardson team it has seen before and it was not a good experience. The Eagles knocked off Mesquite, 67-53, in the finals of the Plano Tournament of Champions in late December.
The Skeeters get a second crack later this week, and this time, the stakes are much higher.
"We're going to have to execute better offensively," Curts said. "Part of that was South Garland did a good job of pressuring the ball but we are going to have to execute, make good passes and put the ball in the basket.
"Richardson is a good team. They beat us in the championship game of the Plano Tournament so we know what we are up against and it is going to be a lot of fun."
Follow Devin Hasson on Twitter: @DevinHasson