By Michael Finnegan / Special Contributor
LEWISVILLE — Highland Park wrote a more deliberate script for its Class 6A Region II bi-district playoff game against Irving MacArthur on Tuesday, but when the pace sped up, the Scots had to improvise.
HP showed its resiliency during a frenzied back-and-forth contest against the Cardinals and standout guard Andrew Jones, emerging with a 70-68 win in its 6A playoff debut.
“Our district got us prepared for this type of basketball game,” said Highland Park head coach David Piehler. “Playing against athletic teams like Richardson and Mesquite, we were ready for this type of game.”
Austin Landes hit two tiebreaking free throws with seven seconds remaining, sending the Scots into the area round to play state-ranked Killeen Shoemaker on Friday in Hillsboro.
The Scots (23-9) wanted to play at a slower pace against the high-flying Cardinals, to allow for their half-court set offense to get the open looks, and that’s exactly what happened at the game’s onset.
HP, which finished third in District 10-6A during the regular season, took a 13-7 first-quarter lead while holding Jones, a McDonald’s All-American swingman who has signed with Texas, to just three points.
HP’s Pete Davis sat out much of the first quarter after picking up two quick fouls, but the senior guard found his groove with nine quick points to start the second quarter, and his 3-pointer with just over six minutes left in the first half put the Scots ahead 23-12.
Jones got going, too, scoring 11 second-quarter points. His steal followed by a thunderous dunk pulled the Cardinals (22-8) within seven points at 23-16 midway through the second quarter.
“We’ve seen some really good players this season, but not the caliber of Jones,” said Piehler. “He’s a special talent, and we knew we had our hands full.”
In spite of Jones’ outburst, HP ended the first half on a 9-1 run to regain the momentum. Ben Reichert scored on back-to-back dunks and the Scots took a 37-24 lead at intermission.
Behind a full-court press to start the second half, MacArthur cut into the lead. Jones brought the Cardinals within four points with two free throws and a putback layup late in the third quarter, and Montrail Walker’s 3-pointer at the buzzer reduced the HP lead to 52-49.
MacArthur took its first lead of the game at 53-52 early in the fourth quarter on Walker’s driving layup.
“What a thrilling back-and-forth game,” said Piehler. “We knew they’d go on a run, and they did. We had to be resilient.”
The Cardinals were up 59-56 before Landes sank a deep 3-pointer to tie the score with 2:22 remaining in the game. Stefon Jauregui’s layup with 1:34 left put the Scots up 61-59.
HP converted several crucial free throws down the stretch, none more important than Landes’ final two. The Cardinals had a final shot rim out at the buzzer.
Jones finished with a game-high 29 points. Davis scored 19 to pace the Scots.