HS Boys Basketball: Cavaliers Outlast Wildkats in Heated Battle for the District Mountaintop

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 12/15/2023


WILLIS, TX -- The Willis Wildkats (11-6) fell short in a 65-53 contest against the College Park Cavaliers (17-2) as both teams attempted to remain unbeaten in district play.

Both teams came out with a blistering pace to start the matchup between the two remaining unbeaten teams in District 13-6A. Quick passes and an immediate full-court press established a mantra of no points coming easy in the fight for first.

The speed initially benefited the Wildkats, who feasted on transition opportunities for shots near the basket. When the offense was required to slow down, the ball movement around the three-point line spurred open looks from behind the arch.

College Park was caught flatfooted against Willis’ speed and needed a timeout to readjust before the game got out of hand in the first quarter.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, College Park Head Coach Clifton McNeely laid out the issues that his team had to start the matchup.

“We did not play defensively,” said McNeely. “I also don’t think we were as sharp and crisp as we needed to be on offense and we needed to settle down.”

The pause did little to stop the Wildkats’ momentum, as they stretched their lead to eight with less than three minutes left in the opening quarter.

In response, the Cavs began driving to the basket to get better looks at shots near the basket. Overcommitment from Willis' defenders to stop the drives led to free shots from outside College Park’s lethal shooters.

The individual effort did not stop the Wildkats from ending the quarter with the scoreboard under their control. A newly structured game plan would be needed if the Cavaliers hoped to bring the game within reach.

This change in the game plan manifested in a greater focus on switches on defense while relying on Aiden Buckmon to carry the load on offense. The sensational Junior ended his half with 21 points, making up over half of College Park’s total.

“The biggest thing were our defensive adjustments,” said McNeely. “We settled down and did the things we had to do to be successful.”

Willis failed to respond properly to the changes, as indicated by their five fouls in the quarter. Another startling revelation came when College Park forced a tie at 28 with a minute and 45 seconds left in the half.

A Buckmon three punctuated the explosive quarter for the Cavs by giving College Park a 31-28 lead going into the half.

“Aiden is our guy,” said McNeely. “He always steps up and when he’s in his flow, and he’s playing hard its hard to stop him.”

Both squads took another chance to make adjustments between halves with different goals in mind. Willis focused on not letting the game slip away while College Park looked to accelerate to the finish.

College Park’s plan got off to the desired start by starting the quarter with a 7-0 run on the Wildkats. Multiple timeouts from Willis tried to stop the run, but the Cavs continued to increase their control on the scoreboard with made baskets.

The Wildkat struggles on defense were compounded by a series of misses, which resulted in Willis only notching 12 points in the third. The double-digit effort was the team’s first since the opening quarter and embodied a strong fight before the fourth.

“I wanted them to stay true to who they were,” said McNeely ahead of the fourth quarter. “That’s why we play the best teams in te state. So when we come into hostile environments like this we can shut it out.”

A re-energized Willis home crowd made noise for their team, who found themselves down 14 to start the final quarter. The energy bled onto the court with the speed that defined the start of the game, returning to close it out.

The Wildkats were laser-focused on limiting Buckmon’s production in the final eight minutes, face-guarding him back to mid-court. This strategy kept the 33-point scorer from making a similar impact as he had during the rest of the game.

Rather than forcing the offense to run through close defense, the Cavaliers heavily distributed the ball to other players. Most notable for College Park was Martez James, who ended his night with 18 points.

“I thought Montez really settled down in the second half and went to work,” said McNeely. “Some of the young guys came in and gave us good support too.”

The collective effort from the Cavs propelled the team to a 19-point lead with three minutes left, but the Wildkats refused to lie down in defeat.

Emphatic put-back dunks kept Willis’ energy high as the clock continued to tick. Fouls aided the Wildkats in their potential comeback that came within 15 of tying.

Unfortunately for Willis, the College Park lead was too much to overcome. The night ended with the Cavaliers taking home a 65-52 win that felt closer than it may have indicated.

College Park’s win separates themselves from the rest of the pack by becoming the only unbeaten squad left in district play. They will prepare for a battle with the rival Woodlands Highlanders next Tuesday while Willis attempts to bounce back against Caney Creek.

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