BY DENNIS SILVA II | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
On February 22, Fort Bend Elkins star wing and Texas signee Donovan Williams retweeted a schedule pairing of his team’s upcoming regional quarterfinal matchup against Morton Ranch.
“This is what y’all wanted right?” Williams noted in his own personal caption of the retweet, along with a pair of emojis. It was a looming showdown between two state-ranked teams, and arguably the finest programs in the Greater Houston area this season.
Morton Ranch star guard LJ Cryer retweeted Williams’ tweet almost as soon as Williams had sent it.
From then, it was on.
Tuesday’s game lived up to the hype. Cryer starred early and often, but Williams shined late, when it mattered most, and Elkins escaped with a 70-66 win over Morton Ranch at the Merrell Center in Katy to advance to this weekend’s Class 6A, Region III semifinals.
The Mavericks, who at 29-7 finished with a program-best campaign, led by 16 points early and by 11 at halftime in what looked to be a runaway win for them.
The second half, however, played out like the game was projected to, back-and-forth scoring forays highlighted by Cryer on Morton Ranch’s side and Williams, Collin Warren (19 points) and Ja’Marcus Bell (11 points) on Elkins’ side.
The Knights outscored the Mavericks 43-28 in the second half.
“The biggest thing is we just didn’t want to go home,” said Williams, who had 11 of his points in the second half to go with three blocks and nine rebounds. “Everybody stepped up their intensity on defense more. Everything for us starts on defense, and in the second half we executed better, rebounded better and that jump-started our offense. It went from there.”
After committing just three turnovers in the first half, Morton Ranch turned it over 10 times in the second.
“We could’ve valued every possession and slowed it down more,” said Cryer, who scored a game-high 24 points with six assists. “We continued to play as if we were down. Stuff like that comes back to bite you.”
In the second half, Elkins started sending more help defense to stymie Cryer and 6-foot-10 center Eddie Lampkin, the two primary playmaking cogs for the Mavs. It slowed down the Mavericks’ offense. Looks weren’t as clean.
“Coach (Albert) Thomas will be really proud,” Williams said. “We got stops late, we got run-outs, got out in transition and we finished layups. We made free throws. That makes all the difference for us.”
Morton Ranch got out and ran in the first half. Elkins returned the favor in the second, and the Knights were particularly dominant on the offensive glass, thanks to Tyler Callegari (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Bell (nine rebounds). Those multiple second chances either awarded the Knights free throws or points.
On one particular possession late in the fourth quarter, with seconds waning and holding a brittle two-point lead, Elkins got two big offensive rebounds, allowing time to waste in the process, before Bell was sent to the free-throw line for the final margin.
“Never give up and be one. That’s the biggest thing to take away,” said Lampkin, who had 10 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. “That team just started playing harder than we were at the beginning.”
As a reward, Elkins marches on. The Knights are 31-7, making the most of a senior-laden core so far.
“We’re definitely happy. We’re excited,” Williams said. “But we know we didn’t get a state ring today. We still have two more games before we make it to state, and two more games from there to win it. This isn’t the end-all to the be-all. We’ll get back to work.”
Morton Ranch caps off a historic year, earning the program’s first district title and making it further during the postseason than it has at any other point.
The Mavericks are loaded—once again—next year, as Cryer, Lampkin, Westley Sellers and Adrian Caldwell return for one last hurrah as seniors.
“It’s now or never to win state,” Cryer said. “We only have one more shot at it. We have to use this as motivation and remember this feeling.”