Varsity basketball loses season opener to McNeil

In one of the most anticipated Texas varsity basketball clashes this season, the McNeil Mavericks led by Oregon pledge Victor Bailey Jr. beat the boys varsity team, 58-71, at McNeil. A tight game throughout, turnovers and fouls would prove the difference between the two sides.

“That was a tough first game,” Lucero said. “They’re really well coached, and they have good players. Coming over here, playing at McNeil on the road in this environment was tough. For most of the game, I thought we handled ourselves well, but like every game, it shows you what you have to get better at.”

While only the first game of the season for both teams, it certainly didn’t feel like one. With the packed crowd cheering at every basket and both sides playing great basketball, it felt more like a playoff matchup.

“It doesn’t feel like a game one when you’re against a packed gym and against a pretty veteran team,” Lucero said. “They have a new point guard, but they’ve been playing together for a while, so they have an established playing style.”

The game started with a frantic pace that didn’t let up until the second quarter. Plenty of turnovers led to fastbreak opportunities for both teams, leaving the crowd at the edge of their seats.

Neither team was shy about showing off their range, and no one was more pleased at that than Victor. He finished the first quarter with three three’s and added another two by the end of the half.

Westlake’s key scoring came from juniors Keonte Kennedy and Brock Cunningham, each chipping in eight points. After the game, junior Luke Pluymen, who scored a team-high 14 points, noted that the Chaps “needed to drive more.”

The second half began with a bang. Victor finished off a drive with a massive dunk which riled up the crowd, but Keonte would silence the crowd with his own dunk at the other end of the floor.

The teams would continue trading buckets with neither able to gain a substantial lead for the rest of the third quarter and halfway into the fourth. But, with Victor rested in the third and Westlake’s starters tired, McNeil pounced on the opportunity to win. Victor would drop a game-high 26, and McNeil took a 55-60 lead with about three minutes left in the game. Westlake was stuck chasing for the rest of the game, and late-game fouling would push the final scoreline to 58-71 for McNeil.

Victor ended up being a large part of the reason for why McNeil won the game which came as no surprise. Much of their offense, especially in the first quarter and then again in the closing stages, ran through him and trying to get him the space to shoot the ball. Westlake was able to slow him down at times, but after signing officially to Oregon earlier that day, he seemed on a mission to prove his worth.

“Once he started hitting his shots, I probably should have had some of our guys crowd him a bit more,” Lucero said. “In the second half we did crowd him and made him a bit more of a driver. But then the help didn’t get there early every time. We had some guys step up and work and try to keep the ball out of his hands. [Senior] Joey [Severt] did a good job in the second half.”

Both Keonte and Brock would foul out late in the game putting Westlake in an even more demanding scenario trying to come back in the fourth quarter.

“They’re two of our best players, so it’s really tough to feel like we can win without them,” senior Alex Neahusan said. “They have a really good ability to score and do a lot of other things, so without them we just aren’t complete.”

While both teams seemed inclined to settle from beyond the three-point-line, Westlake struggled with its shooting and that would hurt them in the late stretch of the game.

“It was the first game so there was lots of jitters,” Lucero said. “I think Bailey had five threes in the first half so that was big for them.”