With district play drawing nearer, and with it the tests that will truly define No. 11 Harker Heights this season, Knight coach Celneque Bobbitt was actually happy his team had been flummoxed early in a win against Pflugerville on Tuesday.
In the eyes of Bobbitt, Pflugerville is the type of team the Knights will face routinely in district play.
If nothing else, the Panthers, who matched Heights in size and athleticism, are the type of team the Knights will have to beat this season if they are to achieve any of a lengthy list of goals.
So, when Heights withstood the Panthers’ best shot and pulled away late for a 67-54 victory at home it called to mind an old adage that he hopes will benefit his team soon.
“To be the best, you’ve got to play the best,” Bobbitt said. “And they’re one of the best teams in Austin.”
Bobbitt still isn’t ready to call his Knights one of the best teams in Killeen, but they’ve done nothing to dispel the notion in a 6-1 start to the season.
Tuesday was just the latest example as Heights went blow for blow with the perennial power Panthers, who came into the game with just two losses on the season.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the largest lead for either team was six by Heights and that lasted just one possession as the team traded blows to seemingly set up for a classic finish
The fourth, however, was a disjointed period, thanks to a technical on Pflugerville coach David Raigosa and a bizarre sequence where a Panther player was allowed to re-enter the game after he had fouled out with the officials and Raigosa both unaware that his last foul was his fifth.
But Heights weathered the storm and, most importantly, hit its free throws — going 15-19 in the fourth — to win the hotly-contested affair.
“It was pretty intense,” said Knight senior Cody Halvorson. “It was two teams, well-balanced and we know a lot of them from AAU, so it’s kind of an intersquad rivalry.”
Halvorson was big for the Knights early, canning three of his four 3-pointers in the first half.
Heights had just six field goals in the first half, but four were 3-pointers, and the Knights hit 14 of 19 free throws as they rarely settled for jump shots against the Pflugerville zone.
“They did a good job spreading us out in that 2-3 zone and that 3-2 zone, and every time you looked around it was going from a 2-3 to a 3-2 to a 2-1-2,” Bobbitt said. “It’s like a Syracuse deal you’ve got to be patient, and that’s what I told the kids: ‘you’ve got to be patient.’”
With the teams tied at the half, Heights went up 34-30 on a DeLaney up and under at the 5:41 mark, only to be clinging to a one-point lead just 1 minute, 54 seconds later.
The Knights later pushed the lead to 42-36 on a Halvorson 3-pointer with 1:45 remaining in the third, but senior Nosa Ebomwonyi — who poured in a game-high 20 — cut the lead in half on the next possession with one of his four 3-pointers on the night.
Heights entered the fourth clinging to a four-point lead and finally got a bit of breathing room when Davon Clare tipped in a missed free throw by Josh DeLaney for a 48-39 advantage with 6:45 to play.
The closest Pflugerville got after that was 53-48 on a long 3-pointer by Ebomwyni near the 3:00 mark, but Heights had a response again, this time coming on a Cameron DeLaney 3-pointer on the next possession.
“I just kept my confidence and kept shooting open jump shots like my coach tells me to do,” said DeLaney, who led Heights with 17 after a slow start. “(I was) just doing whatever our coach wanted us to do to win the game.”
And Bobbitt hopes that battles like the one the Knights faced Tuesday will only lead to more wins down the line — ones that count in the standings.