Buried under a celebratory dog pile Tuesday, Lehman Lobos guard Marcos Cantu soaked in what was, by far, the biggest bucket of his basketball career.
Sure, Cantu has hit his fair share of meaningful shots in the past. None, however, compared to a buzzer-beating 25-plus foot three-pointer that capped off a wild come-from-behind 65-63 Lobo win over the Del Valle Cardinals at the Den.
But beyond the fateful shot was a dramatic win that places Lehman in a tie for fourth in 25-6A and in prime position for an elusive playoff berth. It was a win Cantu and his teammates knew they had to have.
“It’s a big step and a big win. It’s a great thing,” Cantu said. “It puts us one step closer to the playoffs.”
Cantu’s bucket was the cherry on top of a stunning Lobo comeback. Lehman trailed Del Valle by as many as 15 points in the second half; the Lobos were down by seven points with less than 90 seconds left in the game.
Aggressive defense became the Lobos greatest ally. “Selling out” on the defensive side, as well as slowing the game down, allowed Lehman to claw back into contention, said Lobo head coach Steven Pinchback.
Overcoming a woeful night from the field and hitting key shots in crunch time also made a difference. Quick possessions hurt the Lobos and kept them from generating a rhythm on offense for the majority of the contest, Pinchback said.
Cantu said the Lobos were “just missing shots” and struggled for most of the first half.
Lehman led Del Valle 4-0 roughly two minutes into the contest. Del Valle outscored the Lobos 25-12 over the next 14 minutes of play to take a 25-16 halftime lead.
Del Valle took advantage of continued Lobo shooting struggles in the third frame. Midway through the period, Del Valle held a 32-17 lead and all of the momentum.
Lehman didn’t back down. Instead, the Lobos methodically chipped away at Del Valle’s lead. A layup to end the third frame by Lobo Cameron Jones cut Del Valle’s lead to nine points at 43-34 and became an instant catalyst for Lehman’s rally.
Belief, both in each other and in the program, is what Pinchback said he urged late in the game.
The rest will go down in Lobo lore. Amid a frenetic final six minutes that featured two ties and a lead change, Lobo shooters kept their cool and knocked down buckets.
Even when the Lobos inadvertently fouled and allowed Del Valle to take a 63-62 lead with less than 20 seconds left, Lehman maintained composure and wasn’t rattled.
When it was time for someone to step up and make a play, Pinchback knew his team was going to deliver. So did Cantu, who did whatever he could to get the ball in the bucket.
“It couldn’t have happened to a better guy,” Pinchback said. “I told him we were going to need him tonight. We just didn’t know when.”
But more work must be done if the Lobos intend to punch their first playoff ticket in eight seasons. It begins Friday with a must-win road game against crosstown rival Hays.
Building momentum and living in the moment are keys Pinchback said the Lobos must follow.
“Lehman needed that (win),” Pinchback said. “We’re a different team and I’m proud of these guys for not giving up.”
District 25-6A boys basketball standings as of Jan. 23
Lake Travis 8-3
Del Valle 5-6
Lehman High’s remaining schedule
• Jan. 25 @ Hays, 7:30 p.m.
• Jan. 29 vs. Anderson, 7:30 p.m.
• Feb. 1 @ Bowie, 8 p.m.
• Feb. 5 vs. Akins, 7:30 p.m.
• Feb. 8 vs Austin, 7:30 p.m.
• Feb. 13 BYE