WACO — Less than a minute after DeSoto held off the Killeen Kangaroos 42-33 on Tuesday in Waco, Eagles head coach Chris Dyer sought out Kangaroos head coach Reggie Huggins.
“Your guys,” Dyer said to Huggins, “play their butts off. I could not have been more impressed. Your guys flat-out play their butts off.”
Dyer and his DeSoto Eagles — ranked No. 16 in the nation in one poll, and ranked No. 3 in the state — advanced to the second round of the Region I-5A playoffs.
But Killeen didn’t make it easy for them.
The contest was held at McLennan Community College in Waco, and before he boarded his team on its bus, Dyer was still shaking his head in admiration.
“Killeen played great,” Dyer said. “They never stopped hustling. They worked extremely hard. They sure don’t have anything to be ashamed of. They were a great challenge to us and they certainly earned our admiration. We got a few turnovers at the end, and that was the entire difference in the game. Other than that, it was a neck-and-neck game the whole way.”
The game was tied 9-9 after one quarter, and DeSoto led 17-13 at halftime. The Eagles took a 26-22 lead into the final frame and led 34-32 with 1:08 left.
DeSoto closed out the contest on an 8-1 run and thus ended Killeen’s season.
“I am very proud of my guys for the way they played tonight,” Huggins said. “They weren’t afraid. They walked into this building tonight, watched DeSoto warm up and I think my guys just had a sense that they could play with them. I had watched a lot of film on DeSoto so I had confidence in my guys.”
All that film work by Huggins paid off.
Huggins designed a plan that was brilliant. At its core, Huggins’ plan was for Killeen’s top two defenders, seniors Melvin Anthony and Brian Long, to hound DeSoto’s 6-foot-7 Baylor-bound forward Terry Maston every time he touched the ball — no matter what.
DeSoto was surprised by the move. The Eagles also play a 6-foot-10 center and 6-foot-8 forward. They didn’t expect Killeen to leave anyone open.
But Huggins stuck with the plan, and Long (6-foot-4) and Anthony (6-foot-6) completely took Maston out of the contest. Maston ended the night with only six points.
“Coach Huggins is a great coach,” Long said. “He told us what to do and then we went out and did it. We thought if we could take their big guy out of the game, then we’d have a good shot at winning this game. I think they were surprised by our strategy and it threw them off their game.”
“Coach told us that their big guy (Maston) always likes to score in the post,” Anthony explained. “And Coach told us to take that part of the game away from them. We did that and it kept us in this game the whole way.”
Each DeSoto player wears the word “Defense” on the back of his jersey and the Eagles, indeed, are an outstanding defensive squad.
But Killeen showed that it, too, is no easy team to score on.
“The whole key to us playing with them tonight was our defense,” Anthony said. “We challenged everything. We weren’t intimidated.”
Anthony scored six points, Long eight and teammate Demarius Cress scored six. Also for Killeen, Mikell Clark scored four and Michael Woodruff, Donte’ Ellis and Devyn Williams each scored two.
Killeen senior Jaylin Mayfield came off the bench, scored three points, and was absolutely terrific on defense. When Anthony was called for his second foul early in the second quarter, Huggins inserted Mayfield.
“Jaylin did a great job on their big gun (Maston),” Huggins said. “And then Mayfield had no trouble at all guarding their other big man (6-foot-10 soph Marques Bolden). I was thrilled with the way Jaylin played.”
Bolden did score three points in the contest, but he had zero points when the 6-foot-4 Mayfield was on him.
With 1:40 to play, Killeen down by seven, and the Roos on offense, Mayfield stood behind the arc. Anthony dribbled, drew a double-team and then tossed a sensational no-look, cross-court pass to Mayfield.
“I saw Jaylin out of the corner of my eye,” Anthony said. “I felt I could get it to him.”
Mayfield caught the pass and didn’t hesitate. He swished a 22-footer, and the Eagles’ lead was cut to three.
“It was a great pass and I’d been waiting all game to take a 3,” Mayfield said. “I felt confident taking that shot. It felt like it would go in.”
Just 20 seconds later, Cress made a backcourt steal, sprinted three-quarters court, canned the layin and DeSoto’s lead was cut to two, 34-32.
“We really went out with a bang tonight,” Long said. “We didn’t care that we were playing the No. 3-ranked team in the state. We played hard all the way through.”
“Being a Kangaroo means the world to me,” Mayfield said. “It will always mean a lot to me to be a Kangaroo. We played with pride tonight.”
“I’m proud of this team of ours,” Anthony said. “I’m extremely proud of this team.”