The biggest games are often decided by who comes out strongest in the third quarter, and that was definitely the case when Amarillo High hosted Palo Duro on Friday night.
Not only that, but it confirmed who would finish the first half of District 4-4A unbeaten and in sole possession of the district lead.
No. 4 Amarillo High clung to a narrow lead over Palo Duro entering the second half. But the Sandies scored 17 straight points to push their lead to as many as 25 late in the third quarter and withstood a too-little, too-late Palo Duro run to win 59-49 and live up to their lofty billing.
The win gave Amarillo High (27-3, 4-0 in district) the outright 4-4A lead to close the first half of district play, a game ahead of Palo Duro (15-8, 3-1). Although it won’t go down as an easy win, the Sandies showed how good teams persevere to take over games.
It was anybody’s ball game headed into the locker room at halftime, as Amarillo High held a 24-22 halftime lead over the Dons where both teams found offense at a premium.
“We said we needed to get easier looks and get the ball inside-out a little bit more,” AHS coach Jason Pillion said. “(The Dons) were really aggressive in the first half like they always were, and they took us out of our offense. I thought we did a better job of getting the ball inside then getting some threes. Those are just more natural shots, and the guys did a good job of stepping out and hitting them.”
Amarillo High hit 12 3-pointers, all but one of them coming from junior Braden Hausen and senior Jaxon Williams. In the first half, Hausen carried the load, when he scored 14 of his 20 points, including four 3-pointers.
Hausen set the tone from outside in the first quarter when he scored 11 points. He needed to step up since Cooper Pillion, the coach’s son who provides a great deal as a shooter and a rebounder, went to the bench with a severe nosebleed in the first quarter and didn’t return.
“It was tough, and I was tired,” said Hausen, who played all 32 minutes. “I was exhausted but I feel good. Our best thing is probably our 3-point shooting. (Jason Pillion) told Jaxon that and he stepped up big. He’s a senior so we were ready for it.”
If the first half belonged to Hausen, at least offensively, the second half belonged to Williams, or at least the third quarter. Williams hit a 3-pointer to get things started in the second half as the Sandies built their lead to 34-26.
After that, though, they went on a 17-0 run which made the difference. Williams hit three 3-pointers during that run and finished the game with 18 points, all of them coming from beyond the arc.
“Cooper Pillion was out for the night, and I just had to step up,” Williams said. “My teammates were getting me the shots and I was just hitting them. Last year I didn’t have a lot of playing time but this year I get to prove myself. Coach Pillion’s always me to shoot the ball and it was bound to happen.”
Palo Duro made things interesting in the fourth quarter, gradually chipping away at Amarillo High’s lead. Audi Luckey scored 13 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter and in the final minute the Dons got to within nine, but no closer.
“You hope that you’re prepared to not give up a run quite that big,” said PD coach Jeff Evans of the third quarter. “I thought we crumbled right there and (the Sandies) are a good team and they took advantage of it. Except for that run in the third quarter, I am proud of the way our guys competed.”
Palo Duro 10 22 28 49
Amarillo High 14 24 51 59
PD– Audi Luckey 23, Walid Abdelrahim 11. AHS– Braden Hausen 20, Jaxon Williams 18. Records: Palo Duro 15-8, 3-1; Amarillo High 27-3, 4-0.