Conroe turned the tides in the second half and beat College Park 69-63 on Friday night in The Pit.
The hosts went on a 12-0 run over nearly three minutes in the final quarter to take the lead for good, then hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 70 seconds to hold on for the win.
“It’s huge, huge,” an emotional Conroe head coach Daryl Mason said after the win. “Can’t say enough about our kids. Before the game, we didn’t even talk much about basketball. I can’t say enough about the kids’ effort. It was an emotional game.”
The District 15-6A win kept the postseason hopes alive for the Tigers (14-17, 9-6) after The Woodlands (19-11, 9-6) defeated Oak Ridge 64-63 on Friday. The Highlanders hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over Conroe, so the Tigers will need a win over Klein Oak and a loss to College Park from The Woodlands on Tuesday to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
“Our message all year has been control what we can control,” Mason said. “That’s what we did tonight and that’s what we’re going to do from now to Tuesday night.”
The Cavaliers led by eight at halftime but were unable to hold on to complete a season sweep of Conroe. The loss snapped a 6-game winning streak in the series. College Park can lock in the second seed in 15-6A with a win Tuesday.
“I thought (Conroe) just outplayed us in the second half,” College Park coach Clifton McNeely said. “They were much more physical, much more aggressive than we were. They came and battled and competed in the second half and we sat down. We took a bow. Hats off to them, because we were up eight at halftime and our guys said the game was over. Their guys came out and said we still had 16 minutes to play.”
The hosts took a 45-44 lead into the final quarter, then went on a 12-0 run that began with a pair of free throws from Michael Phoenix II with 4:06 to play. The shots gave Conroe a 51-50 lead. With 1:31 to play, a free throw from Anthony Theragood made it 62-51.
College Park hit a few shots late to pull within five points but couldn’t get any closer. Drew Calderon, who had a game-high 30 points, hit two 3-pointers in the final 71 seconds. Khi Watkins, who added 21 points in his second game back from injury, scored twice in the final minute.
“Drew is definitely one of the best players in this district,” McNeely said. “He just keeps getting better and better. His game’s going to continue to rise. I thought Khi Watkins, after being out with injuries, he stepped up and played well tonight.”
The opening quarter was tight Friday, with six lead changes and one tie. Neither team had a lead larger than three and College Park led 14-13 after eight minutes.
The Cavaliers created some distance in the second quarter but the Tigers hung around. College Park pushed the margin to two possessions for the first time when Watkins hit a jumper with 2:27 to play in the half to make it 24-19.
After a timeout, Conroe shrunk the deficit to two points with a 3-pointer from Isaac Wilkerson. Wilkerson had 14 points in the win, second for the Tigers’ behind Phoenix’s 29. On senior night, all but nine of Conroe’s points came from the Class of 2020.
“I’ll really miss those guys,” Mason said. “Tonight, everything happened the way you would want it to happen.”
Calderon hit a pair of shots in the final minute to extend the College Park lead. The second basket, a patient buzzer-beating 3, made it 33-25 Cavaliers at the break. Calderon stood in the corner, waited for a leaping defender to pass him, then calmly hit the shot.
Conroe opened the third quarter on a 7-1 run to pull within a basket. Halfway through the quarter, Phoenix tied the game with a tip-in, then a free throw from Theragood gave the lead back to the Tigers.
After that, the lead changed hands eight times. The run in the fourth quarter that put Conroe ahead for good was jumpstarted with back-to-back baskets from David Sanchez, the former a floater and the latter a layup after a steal and pass from Phoenix.
Down 56-51, College Park called a timeout but was unable to stop the Tigers after it.
“We said at halftime (Conroe) was going to come at us with full- and half-court traps because their season was on the line in terms of the playoffs,” McNeely said. “Our kids came out and turned the ball over, turned the ball over, turned the ball over. Hats off to them - their kids played harder than us.”