HS Boys Basketball: College Park Wins Slugfest Against the Scrappy Highlanders

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 01/27/2024


THE WOODLANDS, TX -- The College Park Cavaliers (27-6) took home a one-point victory against the rival Woodlands Highlanders (15-12) in a back-and-forth Saturday afternoon battle.

A matchup earlier in the season saw College Park defend its homecourt against the Highlanders in a 67-52 win that structured The Woodlands since. The tough Highlanders squad had only lost two games since their defeat at the hands of the Cavs, and their new structure led to a new approach in the rematch.

In contrast to the recent defensive battles the Highlanders had been waging against their opponents, the Cavaliers exploded out the gate on offense. Aiden Buckmon was the workhorse for College Park, hitting three straight three-pointers to put his team in front early.

The Woodlands, meanwhile, could only muster five total points in response. A suffocating College Park trap put heavy pressure on Highlander ball-handlers and forced multiple turnovers in the early going.

Relatively few stops for timeouts and deadballs meant that players were forced into long stretches of gameplay, which the Cavaliers were prepared for. The team’s blistering pace and ability to stretch the floor caught The Woodlands flat-footed, leading to a 15-5 lead at the end of the first.

After taking time to adjust in between quarters, Highlander Head Coach Dale Reed and his players executed a game plan that took the control away from College Park. A slow-paced Woodlands offense ate considerable time, and the defense swarmed to the basket to limit second chances for the Cavs.

Now, College Park was the one caught off guard as their lethal shooters fell silent when they could have been extending the lead. Collapses on rebounds effectively neutralized Martez James from contributing for the Cavs. Altogether, the Cavaliers scored three total points in the second quarter, their lowest of the season.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, College Park Head Coach Clifton McNeely spoke on the displeasure of seeing his team perform poorly.

“We played absolutely, positively, the worst that we have played,” said McNeely. “We really did not pay well, especially on the offensive end.”

The offensive woes for College Park paired well with the slower approach shown by The Woodlands. Shooters got open with greater frequency, and a minor run brought the game within two possessions.

The 18-13 lead for College Park would be crucial to the team as the second half got underway. The Woodlands continually stuck in the rearview for the entire eight minutes by keeping the offense steady and the defense up.

But with the pressure on them, the Cavaliers managed to stay just ahead by revitalizing their offensive shooting. Buckmon resumed his scoring from the first quarter, and Ian Inman contributed with shots from inside the arch.

The Highlanders responded with authoritative drives to the bucket from Ty Sheldon and Jesus Carmona, often getting and-one opportunities following makes.

A substantial momentum shift swung in College Park’s favor at the end of the third quarter, as a hail-mary shot from Buckmon sank as time expired. The shot was ruled good on the floor, and it gave the Cavaliers a breather after a tense third quarter.

The momentum swings that defined the third quarter carried over into the final, as the Highlanders made their last push for the win.

More high-pressure baskets and atypical mistakes from the Cavaliers gave The Woodlands the chance it needed to fully orchestrate the comeback. Threes ramped up the Highlander home crowd, stops kept College Park from scoring, and it all came together for the team’s first lead of the game with less than four minutes left.

Tempers flared after the changes in the lead, and multiple players for both squads picked up technical fouls. Chirping after plays caused the officials to stop potential runs when each point carried monumental significance.

Understanding the situation, the Cavaliers trusted their three-point shooters to get them out of the bind they found themselves in. Most notable was Buckmon, who executed a highlight three that recaptured the lead for his team.

“He had to step up and be the man running the show for us, and now he is the man,” said McNeely on his stellar guard. “Aiden [Buckmon] has so much confidence and self-awareness, and it's because of the work he puts in.”

The late three and some scrambled possessions from The Woodlands saw the team lose its grasp in the closing seconds. The final nail in the coffin came with the clock winding down and a layup being made instead of a potential game-tying three.

The lapse in judgment by The Woodlands saw the last seconds tick off and end in a gut-wrenching 40-39 defeat.

College Park’s victory comes with lessons in toe on how the team can fix itself as the season comes closer to its finish.

“We have to go back and watch this game from an offensive standpoint,” said McNeely. “We have to find ways to put our guys into positions where we can get them some easier points.”

In the face of issues that need to be fixed, McNeely was able to credit the fighting spirit of his team and the effort that led the team to its win.

“At the end, I told them they did what champions are supposed to do,” said McNeely. “They played with confidence and found a way to execute.”

The Cavaliers will take their win and hope to parlay it into another against Oak Ridge on Wednesday, while the Highlanders look to take out their frustration on Caney Creek.

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