Billy White Jr. knew his team needed to recover both physically and mentally.
Prior to the holiday break, Copperas Cove was struggling, losing three consecutive games, including its District 8-6A opener.
The performances left no doubt in the Bulldawgs head coach’s mind that his players had to step away from the game, and it appears White was right.
Since returning from a five-day Christmas vacation, Copperas Cove produced a second-place showing at the Mike Smith Victoria Classic and earned its first district victory by beating Ellison, giving White the turnaround he hoped for.
“This is definitely a refocused team,” he said. “Basketball has a long season, so when you are going to be the smaller team nine times out of 10, you get banged up and bruised up.
“But that is just how we have to play. We have to grind it out to win games, and it starts to wear on you, so that was the perfect time to go on a break. … Now, we just have to continue to grind and fight.”
For their first few games back, the Bulldawgs succeeded with relative ease.
In pool play at Victoria, Copperas Cove defeated its three opponents by a combined 101 points to cruise into the championship round.
The Bulldawgs opened the tournament with a 69-39 victory against Corpus Christi King before beating Victoria East 68-44 and The Woodlands Cooper 78-31.
In the title game, however, Tomball ended Copperas Cove’s unblemished run with a 67-57 victory, but the defeat did not slow down the Bulldawgs for long.
Copperas Cove (13-8, 1-1) resumed district play Tuesday, hosting Ellison, and after holding an eight-point advantage late in the contest, the Bulldawgs withstood a rally to win 48-46.
“Beating Ellison puts on a higher level than we were coming in,” Copperas Cove junior Justus Honea said, “but we have to keep it going.”
The Bulldawgs scored the first nine points against Ellison before taking a 19-14 lead into the second quarter, where the Eagles outscored Copperas Cove 15-7 to hold a 29-26 advantage at halftime.
In the second half, no lead was safe.
After Bulldawgs senior Dahmir Pearson recorded four unanswered points and Honea added a baseline jumper to start the third quarter, Copperas Cove’s gap widened to five points, 34-29, as Daveon Thomas made a pair of free throws.
But Ellison scored eight of the next 10 points to take a 37-36 lead, setting the stage for Honea to make three unanswered 3-pointers en route to a game-high 17 points.
The Eagles refused to give up, though, tying the score 45-45 with 65 seconds remaining in regulation, but Bulldawgs junior Neyland Block connected on a go-ahead 3-pointer, giving Copperas Cove enough cushion to earn the victory.
Pearson and Block finished with eight points apiece to complement Honea’s offensive outing, while Thomas had five points and Jyhlil Rice, who was named to the all-tournament team at Victoria with Honea, finished with four points and a team-high four rebounds.
“I have complete trust and faith in all those guys taking those shots,” White said, “because I know the work they’ve put in.”
Maintaining the momentum will not be easy, though, as the Bulldawgs travel to face Shoemaker tonight at 7 p.m. The Grey Wolves (16-6, 1-1) are coming off a lopsided 81-36 victory Tuesday at Belton.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re going to Killeen, San Angelo, Waco or Belton,” White said, “we have to show up to play.
“This year more than any other year I’ve been here, we have to show up ready, because any team can beat another on any night.”