Plenty of distractions stood in front of Hays Rebel senior guard Dré Green when he approached the free throw line late in Saturday’s game against the Lehman Lobos at the Lobo Den.
Facing a one-point deficit with four seconds left on the road, Green realized the magnitude his two free throws had on the game’s outcome.
Rectifying a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Lobos in their last meeting in 2017 also played in the back of Green’s mind. “I had to black it out,” Green said. “I acted like the whole gym was empty and I was shooting at practice.”
Two swishes, followed by a missed Lobo desperation heave at the buzzer, and Hays (10-14, 1-2) escaped with a narrow 57-56 win over Lehman for its first district victory of the season. Hays’ win was predicated on a furious 9-2 run in the final three-plus minutes allowing Hays to rally from a 54-48 deficit.
A smothering press defense that forced several critical Lobo turnovers down the stretch helped the Rebel offense regain its footing. Green said the team had worked on the press defense recently as Rebel head coach Matthew Sandoval knew it could be utilized.
“It was the perfect time to use it,” Green said. “It turned the game up. We hit shots and made them count.”
Sandoval said the Rebels worked on finishing around the rim in the second half, which helped the team rebound from a 36-28 deficit early in the third quarter. Sandoval said he encouraged his players to match the intensity of the Lobos, who also were vying to score their first district win of the season in the game.
“It’s a road game and they’re all tough and we executed down the stretch,” Sandoval said. Steven Pinchback, Lehman head basketball coach, said execution woes in the final minutes led to the meltdown. Pinchback said Hays’ pressure defense caused Lobo players to speed up and make mistakes.
While Pinchback lauded the team’s energy and intensity in the contest, the ability to finish in the clutch caused the Lobos to struggle. Pinchback said finishing is part of the learning curve for a young team, which hasn’t faced many late-game situations.
“We have to learn how to finish things off. It’s a part of growing and learning curve we have,” Pinchback said. “They aren’t used to that moment. When the moment gets big like that, they kind of back away from it.”
Early on, the Lobos were able to thrive with success in the paint. Lehman was led offensively by TJ Jefferson, who finished with a game high 14 points, and Kenny Henderson’s 13 point effort.
Pinchback said the Lobos were “relentless” in the paint and on the glass in the first three quarters and “got after it.” The Lobos led 32-28 at halftime and built a lead as large as 36-28 in the third frame.
“When it got tight in the second half, they weren’t as aggressive,” Pinchback said. “I think they were scared to mess up.” Sandoval said Saturday’s win encompassed the roller coaster ride of working with a roster brimming with youth.
As the midpoint of the district slate nears, Sandoval said continued growth is the key for the Rebels.
“We did some good things around the basket today and made things happen when it counted,” Sandoval said. “At the end of the day, we got the win.”