In deciding who would conclude the first half of District 3-5A play with sole possession of the district lead, the elements got pretty basic between the Amarillo High and Palo Duro boys on Friday night. The fact that Amarillo High acted particularly defensive was the most basic quality of all.
No. 5 Amarillo High never let No. 11 Palo Duro get into its patented fast break, much to the disappointment of the home half of the packed house at Palo Duro Activity Center. The Sandies took the early lead and got out of enemy territory with a decisive 53-33 victory to make a major statement.
With the win, Amarillo High (25-4, 4-0 in district) remained the team to beat in district play. concluding the first half of 3-5A alone atop the district. It might not have been the most picturesque of wins, but the Sandies executed what coach Jason Pillion wanted all week long.
“I’m so proud of our guys,” Pillion said. “I thought our focus and being locked in at the defensive end was about as good as it’s been all year long and then we took care of the basketball. We defended well on and off the ball, finished with the rebounds then figured the rest out on offense.”
The game started with great competitive promise, as Palo Duro’s Victor Juarez hit a 3-pointer to start the scoring and give the Dons (18-5, 3-1) a 3-0 lead. But that was the only time they led, as Amarillo High’s Braden Hausen answered with a 3-pointer to start a 12-0 run which gave the Sandies the lead for good.
T.J. Brown converted a rare four-point play during that stretch which signaled it was going to be Amarillo High’s night after that point.
“We came out and didn’t just go on a 12-0 run, we came out and didn’t execute on the initial possession, they got a steal, got a shot and we responded to that,” Pillion said. “We faced this environment and got two really bad possessions to start the game and we responded. That really shows character and toughness to do that.”
Amarillo High led by as many as 14 points in the first half and led 28-16 at halftime. Palo Duro didn’t appear on the verge of being blown out, and got as close as eight points in the third quarter.
However, the Sandies showed good ball movement and were able to convert that into baskets in the quarter, especially Zach Brown. Zach, the younger brother of T.J., had 10 of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter as the Sandies went up 45-30 and had all the momentum.
Hausen didn’t score a field goal after his opening three, but set up the Browns and some others for fairly easy baskets the last three quarters.
“Just (the Dons) playing defense like they were, just getting up we’ve got to move the ball and whoever’s open has got to shoot it,” Zach Brown said. “Me and Braden, but really the whole team too, we’re all just passing the ball and we don’t really care who scores.”
The Brown’s carried the Sandies in the third quarter. T.J. scored Amarillo High’s other seven points in the third.
It capped a big week for the Brown family on the court. T.J. and Zach’s father Tom coaches the West Texas A&M men, who were ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time ever, and beat No. 4 Dallas Baptist at First United Bank Center on Thursday night.
“It’s great,” Zach said. “We always look forward to those big games. They’re doing really well so it’s always fun to go out to the games and support each other.”
T.J. Brown had 13 points for the Sandies and Will Williams had 12, all on 3-pointers.
One common thread offensively for the two teams was outside shooting, as the Sandies and Dons both made a highly respectable nine 3-pointers. The difference was that Palo Duro rarely got out in transition for easy scoring opportunities.
“We kind of played down to (the Sandies) and played their game,” Palo Duro coach Marquis Loftis said. “They made us play that way. They imposed their will on us and got after us and we didn’t know how to handle it. Teams have been physical with us but not to that magnitude on both ends.”
Eli Igiranez was the lone Palo Duro scorer in double digits with 13 points.
Amarillo High 14 28 45 53
Palo Duro 6 16 30 33
AHS- Zach Brown 21, T.J. Brown 13, Will Williams 12. PD- Eli Igiranez 13, Victor Juarez 9. Records: Amarillo High 25-4, 4-0. Palo Duro 18-5, 3-1.