Boys’ basketball advances in playoffs with comeback win over Clemens

Chaps erase 10-point halftime deficit, take home 42-37 win in Area Championship
Jake Strelitz
Guard senior Gavin Paull goes up for a layup in the Chaps’ 42-37 win over Clemens Friday, Feb. 23 at Hays High School. Paull scored 15 points, including five in the fourth quarter to help the Chaps to victory.

With two-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game, guard senior Gavin Paull dribbled inside of the free throw line and rose up for a floater. The away side of the bleachers erupted in cheers as the ball fell through the bottom of the net. Paull’s basket gave the Chaps their first lead of the game. 

About two minutes later, Paull found himself in almost the exact same spot on the floor, this time shooting two free throws to make it a two-possession game in the final seconds. 

With his high school career on the line, Paull stayed calm.

“It’s just one play,” Paull said. “Focus on what’s happening now, and try not worry about the score or the crowd or anything else. Just stay in the moment.”

Shrugging off the noise and pressure, Paull did just that to knock down both free throws and secure the Chaps (28-7) comeback victory on Friday. They erased a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Clemens (26-10), 42-37 in the area championship of the UIL 6A Boys’ State Basketball playoffs at Hays High School. The Chaps allowed just seven points in the second half and outscored the Buffaloes 12-3 in the fourth quarter. 

“I was proud of them,” head coach Robert Lucero said. “You make a decision: are you gonna let go of the rope and give up, or are you going to fight? I thought we did a good job of fighting, and I think usually we fight harder than any other team.”

Less than a week after scoring 18 unanswered points to start the first quarter against Manor, the Chaps stumbled against Clemens early. The Buffaloes stormed out to an 11-2 lead. Unable to create any open looks on offense and struggling to match Clemens’ length and athleticism, the Chaps trailed 15-6 after one period. 

“I thought [Clemens] were doing well defensively to start the game, and we weren’t executing offensively the way we should have,” Paull said. “It just took us some time to get used to them.” 

The Chaps tried to claw back into the game in the second quarter, but missed free throws, turnovers and poor rebounding killed their comeback efforts. The Chaps got within four points of the Buffaloes on three occasions, but Clemens answered each time. A pair of missed free throws made the Chaps one-for-six from the line, and the Buffaloes hit a buzzer-beater layup to stretch their lead to 10 as the first half ended.

Forward senior Wonder Kahozi posts up a Clemens defender in the Chaps’ win Friday, Feb. 23 at Hays High School. While they trailed by 10 at half, the Chaps battled their way back late to win by five. (Jake Strelitz)

“You talk about ‘staying in the moment,’ and these little sayings that you preach all the time,” Lucero said. “Like ‘the most important play is the next play, not what’s already happened.’ We go through this every day. Our habit is to stay calm and not lose our composure when things don’t go right.”

The Chaps stormed out of the half firing on all cylinders. A 10-2 run capped by baskets from Paull and guard senior Donovan Lee moved the Chaps within two points, the closest the game had been since early in the first quarter. 

The aggression from the Chaps on both sides of the ball indicated a major momentum swing midway through the third quarter. Still, the Chaps trailed 34-30 heading into the fourth. 

“We were just sticking to our game plan,” Paull said. “We were doing everything that we needed to really lock it down defensively. We knew that if we outworked them in the second half, everything would happen the way we needed.”

The tides began to fully turn late in the fourth. Both teams struggled to find the net to start the period, but the Chaps’ shots began falling with around four minutes remaining. An and-one from forward junior Jack Seiders and a jump shot from guard senior Max Purushothaman cut the Clemens lead to one late. Paull’s floater pulled the Chaps ahead for the first time all night. They never looked back. 

Finally overcoming their struggles to hit free throws down the stretch, a series of foul shots by Paull and forward senior Wonder Kahozi allowed the Chaps to extend their lead to five and ice the game. 

Late game situations have been the area where the Chaps have excelled all season long. They average over 30 of their 55 points per game in the second half, and their best quarter tends to be the fourth.

The Chaps will have their work cut out for them in the next round, however, as they face the number two team in Texas and number seven team in the nation per MaxPreps, Stony Point, Tuesday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Burger Center. The Chaps will look to avenge a 45-43 loss to the Tigers that they suffered in the first game of the season. 

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