ARLINGTON — Houston High School history was on the line Monday night during the Class 3A Sectional showdown in the Arlington High School Gymnasium.
The host and Region 7-3A champion Arlington Tigers were the obstacle standing in the way of the Region 8-3A runner up Mustangs.
Despite the fact that the Houston boys had never reaching the Class 3A State Basketball Tournament prior to Monday night, Head Coach Charlie Leonard’s roster was full of playoff experience.
And it was veteran leadership that paced the Mustangs to a 63-43 victory over Arlington and the boys’ first trip to the Final Eight in the Volunteer State.
“They’ve earned it,” Leonard said. “You get to be an old man and you’ve experienced this before. What you want is for them to experience it and get the opportunity. That’s all you can ask for.”
Leonard, who has coached on all levels, led the Christian Brothers High School basketball team to State back in the 1990s.
“You can’t want it for them,” he added. “You have to push them as much as you can. Because if you want it more than they do, you’ll be the one who is getting frustrated. I’m too old to be frustrated like that.”
Leonard wasn’t frustrated with his team’s defensive effort in the first 16 minutes. The Mustangs held Arlington to 16 points that feature a Madison Peaster breakway jam.
The Tigers’ highlights were few in number as Houston swarm the court with pressure.
“I wanted to go to State,” Houston guard TJ Madlock said. “The whole team wanted to go to State. So the whole team was on the same page. We work on defense all day everyday. That’s how we win games.”
Meanwhile the Mustangs dropped 28 points in the first half to take a 12-point advantage into the locker room.
Mason Miller had 5 points in the first quarter, including a three-pointer that made the score 15-3. Arlington closed the opening quarter with a 5-0 run to make the score 15-8.
Then Houston got back on track in the second quarter when Faizon Fields made a basket and drew a foul. Fields’ three-point play made the deficit double digits again.
“Last year we got put out by a really good East team,” Leonard recalled. “We struggled in the first quarter. We never mentioned it. The defense tonight was the big thing. We told them, ‘When you go on the road one thing you can control is the defense.’ That hasn’t changed in 50 years.
“They did a very good job,” he added. “I think they only had 16 points at halftime. That’s huge. That gives you a chance to be imperfect if you hold them to 16.”
The Mustangs maintained the double figure lead until the third quarter ahead 30-18. Peaster hit a three-pointer that made the score 30-21. The rest of the period Arlington outscored Houston 10-9.
The score was 39-31in favor of Houston heading into the fourth quarter. Houston blasted out the final 8 minutes with a 7-0 run that put the game away.
This feels amazing,” Madlock concluded. “I’ve been here two years and some of the other people in the locker room have been here three years. It’s hard work trying to go to State.”