HARKER HEIGHTS — Down five with 1:31 to play in a game it had once led by 10, Harker Heights junior Alexus Dukes admits doubt began seeping into her mind.
Then her instincts took over.
“Defense, stop the ball, score,” Dukes said of her mindset.
Dukes’ instincts paid off Friday as the junior scored five of the Lady Knights’ final seven points of the game, including the game-winner, to help Heights rally for a 67-66 win against Killeen at Heights gymnasium.
Down two in the final minute, Dukes picked up a loose ball after a missed free throw and raced coast to coast for a runner she hit as she was fouled with 36.8 seconds to play.
With the gym at a fever pitch following a timeout, Dukes calmly stepped to the line and hit the game-winning free throw to improve Heights to 2-0 in District 8-5A just a year after the Lady Knights won two district games total.
“(Dukes) went out and she did what we needed her to do in the most vital part of the game,” Heights coach Shirretha Nelson said, “and that’s what being a captain, an experienced varsity player and a point guard is all about.”
Killeen, meanwhile, fell to 1-1 in district play after it erased a 10-point first quarter deficit only to fall in the final minutes.
“We kept fouling them and they made free throws,” Lady Roo coach Latisha Williams said. “We couldn’t get a loose ball, nothing — so that’s why we lost the game.”
Heights blitzed Killeen in the opening quarter as Sam Houston State signee Angela DeLaney scored 10 points on 4 of 4 shooting in the frame, which ended with the Lady Knights up 20-11. As a team, Heights shot 54 percent in the first, rebounding from a slow start against Belton on Tuesday.
“Coming into this game we were focused from the jump from practice,” DeLaney said.
“In the beginning, we were just focused — we knew we had to go hard, so we all came out hard and focused.”
But like they did Tuesday, when Killeen outscored Copperas Cove by 12 in the second half to win by four, the Lady Roos rallied again, this time with defense.
After Heights’ torrid start to the game, Killeen held the Lady Knights to just one field goal in the second quarter, all the while chipping away at the lead before going up 28-27 at the half.
Heights entered the fourth clinging to a one-point lead and went up 49-45 on a nifty left-handed runner by DeLaney as she was drifting right in the lane with 6:39 to play. She finished with a game-high 21 points.
But Killeen responded to the play with a Keaunna Johnson basket followed by a steal and a Tia Harston 3-pointer to pull ahead 50-49.
With just less than two minutes to play, the Lady Roos split a pair of free throws on consecutive possessions to go up 65-60 with 1:31 remaining.
That’s when Dukes leapt into action, hitting a pull-up jumper on the next possession to cut the lead to 65-62.
A possession later, Jada Evans hit a runner in the lane to cut the lead to one with 1:05 to play.
After Killeen hit the first of two free throws to go up two, the second attempt missed and appeared to hit the foot of a Lady Roo player before rolling into the awaiting hands of Dukes.
“(It was) hustle,” Dukes said, “I had to get the ball.”
Dukes did that and raced end to end for the most important 3 of her 19 points.
Killeen had multiple chances to go ahead in the final half-minute but, after a miss on the next possession, turned the ball over twice to end the game.
And after equaling its district win total of 2012 in the first week of league play this year, Heights was only hoping to keep it rolling going forward.
“It feels great — it feels really great,” an exuberant DeLaney said after the game. “We’re going to keep going, keep hustling, going hard in practice, doing what we’ve got to do.”
Contact Jordan Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-501-7562