HS Boys Basketball: Overtime Thriller Sees The Woodlands Win Turbulent Affair Over Willis

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 02/03/2024


THE WOODLANDS, TX -- The Woodlands Highlanders (17-12) kept their playoff hopes alive in a breathtaking 62-57 win over the Willis Wildkats (19-11) that went to overtime.

The playoff situation for both teams hung in the balance before the opening tip. Willis needed a victory to stay at the number two spot in the district standings, while the Highlanders needed a win to climb into the fourth and final playoff spot.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, Highlander Head Coach Dale Reed laid out the tension-filled mindset of the team due to the current playoff picture.

“Our playoffs started two games ago,” said Reed. “Every game is a playoff game. If we win, we get another chance. If we lose, we’re out of it.”

The pressure of the situation did not affect The Woodlands following the opening tip, as the team took over with its signature defensive approach. Poking dribbles, interrupting passes, and blocking shots were all a part of the Highlander strategy during the opening quarter.

Willis’ defining pace that blazed past opponents for quick scores was slowed to a crawl due to the immediate pressure displayed by The Woodlands. The Wildkats were forced into taking tough shots or bulldozing toward the paint, where turnovers were more abundant than points.

The pacing set by the Highlanders dedicated the flow of the first eight minutes, which ended in a 7-7 tie between the two teams.

Seeing their game plan work to near perfection in the first quarter, the Highlanders hit the accelerator in the second. Shots flew in greater volume, and the points followed. Five different players recorded points for The Woodlands, with Joseph Hauser leading the pack with six.

Willis was still attempting to get the offense jumpstarted after the lackluster open but fell further behind. Three-point shots missed the mark, and jumpers from inside the arch were tightly contested or rushed in their execution.

The gap grew to 10 points in favor of the Highlanders due to the combined control on both ends. A 27-17 lead and the momentum followed them into the locker room as the Wildkats went to restructure their strategy for the second half.

Changes in the Wildkat strategy came to fruition in the third quarter. The double-digit deficit made little difference in Willis’ mind as the players found more success from the field.

A dominant inside presence was capitalized on by the Wildkats, who bullied their way into the paint for layups and putback opportunities. S.J. Young and Bryce Bass powered through smaller matchups for shots near the bucket, which chipped away at The Woodlands' lead.

In contrast to their first-half execution, the Highlanders stumbled out the gate. Sloppy passing turned the ball over before the offense could get situated, and miscommunication on defense led to shooters getting open.

The pressure of losing the lead started to show in the play of The Woodlands. Their calm and collected fashion of running offense was thrown into top gear in a way that ate little time off the clock. The rushed attack forced unnecessary shots and gave the ball back to the Wildkats with chances to draw even.

That chance of a tie was finally cashed in by Willis in the closing seconds of the third. With time winding down, late baskets gave the Wildkats a 35-point tie that put the pressure on the Highlanders in the final quarter of regulation.

Willis seemed poised to close the game strong after a three-point shot and alley-oop gave the team an immediate five-point lead in under a minute. A dominant showing from Chandler Beasley furthered the case that the Highlanders had lost the momentum at the worst possible time and surrendered the win.

But with their backs against the wall, The Woodlands soldiered on and went back to what worked in the first half. Steady pacing on offense brought the team back to a comfortable pace, and the shots were carefully chosen to give the team easy points.

The sudden change back to a slower game caught the Wildkats flat-footed, and the lead slid back to The Woodlands. The back-and-forth trading of the lead caused players to push in moments where composure was needed, and mistakes led to opportunities for the opponent.

With players getting discouraged over miscues, the stronger mentalities prevailed in the clutch.

“It’s a next-play mentality,” said Reed. “You made a mistake here, and they’re on a run, but let's have a great possession here, and that always gives us a chance to keep up the fight.”

The next-play mentality fueled The Woodlands down the stretch, but the window was never fully closed on Willis. Misses from the free throw line and some savvy shots from the Wildkats kept the team one possession from forcing overtime.

After missing back-to-back free throws, Chandler Beasley gained possession in the corner and was fouled in while putting the shot up. Three clutch makes in a row from the junior forced the teams into overtime, with the game-sealing momentum up for grabs.

In the clutch moments, the Highlanders put their past mistakes behind them and stepped up. A monumental three-point shot from Christian Garcia and only two misses from the free throw line gave The Woodlands separation with time winding down.

Willis scrambled to get back at their opponents by trying to force their way back into the paint for shots. But skillful blocks from the Highlanders turned the Wildkats away and kept the lead away through all four minutes.

A rousing cheer from the home crowd masked the sigh of relief from the Highlander coaches after taking a 62-57 win against one of the district’s best.

“For us to find a way to beat such a good Willis team makes me proud of our guys,” said Reed after the win. “We had opportunities in our last two home games and didn’t finish the job, and today we found a way.”

The Highlander victory, paired with New Caney’s loss, means the team is inside the playoffs with the fourth and final spot.

Their game-to-game mantra now carries over to a home matchup against the Conroe Tigers, who are also fighting to stay alive in the playoff chase. Meanwhile, Willis will take a chance to rebound at home against Oak Ridge in the Wildkat’s chase for better postseason positioning.

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