By Alex Byington
Harker Heights Herald
COPPERAS COVE - The celebration was subdued. The jubilation was reserved for the ride home.
And the ceremonial cutting down of the net will have to wait a few more days. But make no mistake about it, the Harker Heights Knights are district champs once again.
"It's awesome. It's (been) a five-year wait, and it's like I told the guys, I can't wait no more," Heights coach Celneque Bobbitt said.
Forced to clinch it on the road following Saturday's home upset by A&M Consolidated, the 10th-ranked Knights scored 11 of the final 12 points in the second quarter Tuesday and pulled away for a 64-49 victory over host Copperas Cove to lock up the District 12-5A championship.
It's Harker Heights' first district title since the 2006 season when former Knights standouts Matt Addison and Walt Harris led the team to a 13-1 district mark en route to a regional quarterfinal appearance.
"It means a lot because our coach is always talking about the past players that came through and it makes you feel good to be apart of history, being the second team to win district," said Heights junior point guard Thomas Cherry.
Led with a pair of double-double performances from the Knights' senior "little big guys" - 6-foot-5 wing Royce O'Neale and 6-foot-1 post Brandon Bullock - Heights (26-4, 11-1) dominated the boards, outrebounding Cove 43-23.
"If you control the boards, you're going to control the game, and that's just what they did tonight," Cove coach Billy White said.
Combining on 21 points and 16 rebounds, O'Neale set the school record for rebounds in a single season with 301, surpassing Dustin Allen with his final board of the night early in the fourth quarter.
"It's just having a knack for the ball," O'Neale said. "(I was) trying to go get the ball where it was, where it's suppose to be, and hopefully I got it, and I did."
While O'Neale got it done on the defensive side, Bullock finished with 15 points - including 13 in the first half - and 11 boards (10 offensive).
Leading 27-26 following a Cove jumper by Juwan Rice with 2:23 to play before halftime, the Knights found their groove on O'Neale's shoulders. Answering with a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, O'Neale scored seven straight points in a 40-second span and Heights went into halftime leading 38-27 on an Allantae Faust 3 with four seconds remaining.
The Knights kept the pressure on coming out of the break. O'Neale scored on back-to-back possessions including a one-handed fastbreak dunk on a steal and assist by Cherry with 6:38 to play and then added a 3-pointer and another bucket two minutes later to stretch Heights' lead to 50-30 midway through the third.
A&M Consolidated 59, No. 9 Harker Heights 57 - At Harker Heights, the Knights were all ready to cut down the nets. The only problem? The game hadn't tipped off yet. With a chance to lock up the District 12-5A title with a win Saturday, the ninth-ranked Knights admittedly looked past A&M Consolidated and stumbled for the first time in more than a month.
"We kind of did. We felt that since we beat them last time, it'd be an easy game," O'Neale said, referring to the 63-61 win at College Station. "We all feel down right now."
Shooting a miserable 19 percent (4-of-21) from the floor in the third quarter, Heights' usual second-half surge never developed as an eight-point advantage with 2:42 left in the second quarter was squandered eight minutes later.
Shooting a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe, senior post Brandon Bullock was the lone Knight in double-figures with 15 points.
On the other side, junior wing Alex Caruso led three Tigers in double-figures with 21 points, while senior guard Truman Sweed added 15 and junior Quinton White sparked the second-half effort with all 12 points over the final 11:40 of the game.
A&M Consolidated 75, Belton 63 (Tuesday) - At College Station, Adrian Henderson scored 18 points, but a 21-7 first quarter run by Consolidated ultimately doomed the visiting Tigers.
Bryan 79, Belton 73 OT (Saturday) - At Belton, Sean Voss had 31 points but it wasn't enough to out duel Vikings junior sensation J-Mychal Reese's 39, who hit all eight of his free throws in overtime to edge the Tigers 11-5 in the extra period.
Salado 56, Burnet 50 (Tuesday) - At Burnet, Jacob Heiner had a game-high 20 points for the Eagles, who evened their District 25-3A record to 4-4. Kolby Spears and Colton Meiman added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for Salado (19-9).
No. 8 Liberty Hill 54, Salado 40 (Saturday) - At Salado, Liberty Hill scored 25 points in the fourth quarter to squash an Eagles upset bid.