With 1:55 to play at University High School in Waco on Tuesday night, Harker Heights trailed nationally ranked DeSoto 44-40.
The gym was packed and it was not partial. Most of the police-estimated crowd of 2,500 was rooting for the Knights.
“I loved it,” said Heights head coach Celneque Bobbitt. “I almost had tears in my eyes. Before the game, I’m looking at the stands across from the bench and I can see it’s packed with people rooting for us. Then behind me, it’s supposed to be DeSoto’s side, but that’s packed with people rooting for us, too.”
DeSoto finished the contest canning 7 of 7 free throws and hitting two field goals. The Eagles prevailed 55-43 and advanced to the Elite Eight.
Bobbitt and his Heights’ players wanted to make school history — to be the first Knights squad to ever advance past the Sweet 16.
“But I’m proud of my guys,” Bobbitt said. “This was a 15-round match and my guys were able to match DeSoto punch-for-punch.”
Indeed they did. How?
First, Heights wasn’t scared.
“We weren’t intimidated at all,” said Heights senior Josh DeLaney, who scored a game-high 16 points. “We came here to win — period.”
Second, Heights overcame adversity.
Pregame, starting Knights forward C.J. Bobbitt looked like he belonged in an infirmary.
“I looked at C.J. 15 minutes before the game, and he looked awful,” Coach Bobbitt said. “He had been perfectly fine in the morning but he obviously had caught a bad virus by the time we got to Waco. In the locker room, he was having cold flashes, chills, he was vomiting. We had him wrapped in blankets. Right before the game started, I told the guys that C.J. would not be able to go.”
C.J. was on the bench for the start of the contest. But he ended up playing some in the first half and contributing with rebounds and tough defense.
In the third quarter, C.J. Bobbitt was the most dominating player on the court — scoring seven clutch points — more than any other player in that 8-minute frame.
“C.J. gave it his all,” Coach Bobbitt said. “I couldn’t ask anything more from him.”
The third reason Heights played DeSoto neck-and-neck for 30 minutes was because of the DeLaneys. Seniors Cameron and Josh DeLaney are sensational players and both came through Tuesday.
Never mind that Cameron stands just 6-foot-2 and DeSoto has four players over 6-foot-7. Cameron had a game-high 11 rebounds.
“I didn’t want to lose — period,” Cameron said. “That’s all there was to it.”
So how did DeSoto win?
First, DeSoto played excellent defense from start to finish. Nothing fancy. Just some tenacious man to man. Heights played excellent defense, too. But the Knights don’t have a front line of 6-10, 6-8 and 6-7.
“We’d drive hard to the basket and they were able to make some nice swats on some of those shots,” Coach Bobbitt said.
Second, the Knights suffered a 5:01 scoring drought in the second quarter. With 6:49 left in the first half, the score was tied at 12. At the 1:48 mark, DeSoto led 21-12. That 9-0 Eagles run was a killer.
And that’s basketball. Heights wasn’t taking poor shots. They just went cold. It happens to every team in the course of a season, including DeSoto, UCLA and the Miami Heat.
“What happened in that five-minute span is just part of the peaks and valleys of the game,” Coach Bobbitt said. “There will be times when a team — any team — can’t throw the ball in the ocean if they’re standing on the beach. Give credit to DeSoto because they played great defense, but that time period was just one of those cold spells a team can get.
“The key, and what made me proud, is that we kept on playing good defense, so we remained in the game. It wasn’t our best shooting night, that’s for sure. But, like I said, I’m proud of my guys and I was pleased with what happened when the contest was over.”
That huge sellout crowd gave the Harker Heights Knights a standing ovation.