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McKinney catches fire early, takes bi-district bout with Hebron



PLANO, TX— Tuesday marked the first game in two weeks for the state-ranked McKinney boys basketball team. Any concerns head coach Wes Watson might have had regarding rust were quickly answered with a 24-point first quarter.

The Lions pushed the pace from the onset against a methodical Hebron squad, riding their hot start to a 66-51 victory from Allen High School in the bi-district round of the Class 6A playoffs. The win marked the 14th straight for the twice-beaten Lions, who advance to the area round for a matchup with Jesuit on Thursday at a time and place to be determined.

“That was probably what concerned me more than anything — playing on a two-week layoff,” Watson said. “Being off that long is never good in this sport. Rust is a real thing, especially in basketball. I knew our effort would be good and you just hope you can hit some shots.”

McKinney had both working in its favor early on Tuesday. The Lions forced five turnovers and outscored the Hawks, 24-14, in the opening frame. McKinney dialed up the tempo early and often — shots went up quick and the Lions went all out in trapping Hebron to generate takeaways. 

Sophomore Jacovey Campbell was the catalyst with three steals in the first quarter alone, chipping in seven of his 11 points in the first quarter as McKinney immediately put Hebron on the defensive.

“[Campbell] was terrific. When he decides to sit down and guard, he’s so good,” Watson said. “I thought he finished out the regular season well against Guyer and we had some carry-over tonight. When he’s like that, we can be so good.”

Campbell was one of five Lions who finished in double figures in Tuesday’s win. Junior Alex Anamekwe logged a team-best 12 points alongside six rebounds and two blocks, junior Ja’Kobe Walter and senior Sean Fry added 11 points, and junior Devin Vincent scored 10 points.

Emphatic as McKinney’s start was, Hebron managed to steer the tempo more to its liking behind a zone defense that dipped the Lions’ efficiency and opportunities from the field. After scoring 24 points in the first quarter, McKinney totaled just 25 points in the second and third quarters — leading 38-23 at the half.

As the pace slowed during the second half, Watson lauded the playmaking of senior JJ Shepherd, whose penetration opened up dishes to Anamekwe and junior Jackson Steele for dunks that energized the Lions. 

“That really was huge, I thought. It got us going again,” Watson said. “It was just a weird game. It was so fragmented with all the stoppages.”

“It was a challenge because we knew they would trap like crazy,” said Eric Reil, Hebron head coach. “We wanted to see if we could handle the pressure a bit and really get our kids to buy into attacking. They outscored us by 10 points in the first quarter but we tied them in the second half. We played toe-to-toe with them and I think that says a lot about our kids.”

Hebron was paced by 20 points from sophomore Alex Cotton, who built off a team-high 15 scored in the Hawks’ 43-39 win Saturday over Plano to qualify for the playoffs. Cotton was defended on several occasions by Walter, who’s ranked among the top sophomores in the country, and remained a constant in Hebron’s attack on Tuesday with four 3-pointers.

“I thought Alex had a coming-out party. If people were watching tonight, I think they saw that he was the best player on the floor tonight. I honestly believe that,” Reil said. “[Walter] is the No. 1 sophomore in the nation, but people are going to talk about Alex, and they should. That kid is going to be good.”

Senior David Deal added 10 points for the Hawks, while sophomore Nate Mercer chipped in eight as Hebron closed out its season at 14-11 overall after tying for fourth place in District 6-6A.

“They never quit. We got to a point where we thought we were in the playoffs and then lost to Lewisville and had to win our last two games plus a play-in game,” Reil said. “I’m so proud of the guys because they never quit and bought into each other.”

As McKinney moves on, one malady that cropped up on Tuesday were issues with cramping. Vincent, who scored all 10 of his points in the first half, missed the entire second half due to cramps in his right leg and Anamekwe was held out of the fourth quarter in Tuesday’s win. Watson anticipates both being ready to go in the area round against Jesuit.

“We’ll get these guys a recovery day tomorrow to look at film, get some shots up and get ready to play again,” Watson said.