At this point in 2020, the Honey Grove Warriors had recently wrapped up a disappointing season that saw them win two games. On Saturday, the team hoisted a bi-district championship after downing top-seeded Alvord 46-39 in the first round of the playoffs.
“It feels great,” senior Karson McKnight said with a smile and a laugh after the dramatic win. “Definitely better than two wins.”
Headed into the game, Alvord was riding high, coasting into the postseason on a six-game winning streak, while the Warriors faced a much more fraught path to the playoffs, and the Warriors said a David vs. Goliath mentality was at play heading into Saturday’s showdown.
“We definitely saw ourselves as underdogs in a way,” senior Ki Bass said.
“I knew we had a chance if we executed, and we did,” head coach Homer Garner added. “I’m proud of how we came out and competed today.”
From the very outset of the game, the Warriors showed that they would live up to their name and make the game a battle. Using a controlled and efficient offense, as well as some stingy defense, the Warriors matched the Bulldogs shot for shot in the opening quarter, and headed into the second were deadlocked at 11 points apiece.
The Warriors played with the same precision in the half-court in the second quarter, more than content to move the ball around with crisp passing and not rushing anything.
“I think that style of play is what can really win you some playoff games,” Garner said of his team’s half-court, measured approach.
It wasn’t just on offense that the Warriors shined, though. Defensively, Honey Grove was able to bother the taller Bulldogs, and in particular did a stellar job neutralizing Hunter Richey — Alvord’s 6’3” senior post with the strength to dominate on the low block and the deft shooting touch to rain down 3-pointers as well.
While he did finish with 16 points, many of those came on putbacks following offensive rebounds. In actual offensive sets, though, the Warriors did a good job of denying him the ball and defending him well when he did put up shots.
Coming up huge for the Warriors in the first half was sophomore guard Alex Fisk, who scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the first half. His shooting touch was simply svelte, as most of his points came from 3-pointers and long 2-point jump shots from not far inside the 3-point arc.
“I’ve got to give credit to (teammate Austin Booker),” he said. “He did a really good job of driving and then finding me for the kick-out.”
“Players step up in big moments, and being a sophomore, you can’t ask for anymore from him than what he gave us,” Garner added. He was clutch.”
While the two teams remained neck-and-neck, most of the second and third quarters consisted of Alvord maintaining a one to two-possession lead, and Honey Grove always nipping at their heels. When the second quarter ended, the Warriors trailed 23-22, and it was still a one-possession game headed into the fourth quarter, with Alvord up 31-28.
Honey Grove took its first lead about 45 seconds into the final period when Jarvis Hill scored on a fastbreak after a steal to put his team up 32-31. Alvord answered back ith two points of its own, and then the Warriors once again responded in kind with two points from Ben Patrick.
The Warriors and Bulldogs traded baskets over the next few possessions, and with just a little more than a minute left in the game, Honey Grove found itself with the ball and clinging to a one point lead.
Alvord began intentionally fouling with a little over a minute left, and on three straight free throws, the Warriors came up empty. It ultimately didn’t matter, though, as they secured the offensive rebound after each missed free throw.
Then, inbounding the ball from the sideline, senior guard Ki Bass took advantage of a breakdown on the part of Alvord, caught the ball completely unguarded in the corner and drove to the rim, where he was fouled while sinking his shot for an and-one opportunity, putting the team up 42-39.
He didn’t make that free throw, but was true on the handful of subsequent free throws he attempted after that, as Alvord kept intentionally fouling to get the ball back.
“I just had to block everything else out,” Bass said of the crucial free throws in the closing seconds.
When all was said and done and the buzzer finally sounded, the Warriors rejoiced with each other and their coaches and a 46-39 bi-district win to their name.
In addition to Fisk’s 16, Bass scored 11; Jordan Woods scored seven, including an incredibly clutch 3-pointer in the fourth quarter; Ben Patrick scored five; Booker scored three and McKnight and Hill each finished with two points.
“This group bought in, they showed up each day ready to work, they’re extremely coachable and they want to do well,” Garner said. “I’m just really proud of them.”