THE WOODLANDS — The first edition of the War of the Woods this season saw College Park sprint ahead early on its way to victory.
The second meeting, played at College Park on Saturday afternoon, saw a tougher battle in the first half before the Cavaliers used a third quarter run to create distance and win the District 13-6A contest 56-40.
“We told our kids and they understood that (The Woodlands) wasn’t going to fall over and play dead,” College Park coach Clifton McNeely said. “We knew they were going to come out and give us everything they had and in the first half, credit to them. I thought they were a lot more assertive and a lot more aggressive on both ends of the floor. In the second half, we matched it and maybe a little more so, and that was a big difference in the game.”
The win is the seventh in a row for the Cavaliers in the series, which ties The Woodlands’ run from 2015-18 that preceded it for longest stretch of winning in the boys basketball edition of the War of the Woods. The Highlanders lead the all-time series 18-14.
“I think if you really want to look at it and say it truly is a rivalry, that’s really what happens over the long run,” McNeely said. “It balances out. This is our 16th year being open and those first two years we played without a senior class. That made it very challenging. Since we got past those first two years, it’s been pretty balanced.”
In the first meeting, College Park was up by double digits at halftime. On Saturday, it was just a 24-21 lead for the hosts after 16 minutes.
The first quarter was full of fouls, with nine on College Park (18-3, 9-0) and seven on The Woodlands (15-6, 6-3).
The Cavaliers led 13-8 after the opening frame after 3-pointers in the final minute from Isaiah Perez-Major and Drew Calderon.
In the second quarter, the Highlanders had a 13-11 edge but were unable to get the lead back. The visitors got the deficit to within one bucket on six occasions and twice cut it to just one point.
Kylan Williams, who led The Woodlands with 11 points, scored seven in the first half with aggressive play inside. Brock Luechtefeld had all of his five points in the first half as well. Shey Eberwein had nine points, six via 3-pointers.
“Loved our effort and our willingness to compete this time,” The Woodlands coach Dale Reed said. “Frustrated with the start of the third quarter. Our lapse and mental mistakes led to some of (College Park’s) scoring in that 10-0 run. That really separated it and we never got back in it. You have to give a lot of credit to College Park and their intensity. Trying to match that or even do better than it is our biggest challenge.”
The Cavaliers opened the third quarter on a 10-0 run that forced a pair of Highlander timeouts. Calderon began it with a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer assisted by Ty Buckmon. Calderon had eight points, Buckmon had 13 and Marvin Dock led the Cavs with 14.
In the stretch that lasted about two minutes, College Park was 3 for 3 from the field, while The Woodlands was 0 for 3. The lead grew to 34-21 as a result, and The Woodlands was never closer than 10 points after it.
“Everybody thinks I went (into the locker room) and yelled at them, taunted them and got after them, but I really said the difference is we were playing not to lose instead of playing to win,” McNeely said. “I thought we were very conservative. The second thing, and the most important thing, was we hadn’t matched their assertiveness. Credit to our kids, we played aggressive and assertive in the third quarter.”
The lead was 45-30 at the end of the third quarter, and it was 13 points at its smallest in the fourth.
The 13-6A slate shifts back to a Tuesday and Friday format next week. On Tuesday, the second round of district play wraps up with a slate of 7 p.m. starts. College Park is at Grand Oaks while The Woodlands hosts Willis.
“I like where we’re at in district and we’ve got a great chance to make it to the playoffs for a 16th year in a row, which is a big deal,” Reed said. “We want to have success in the playoffs, so the further we can get up in the standings, the better off we are. (Saturday) was a tough game, but I liked our guys much better than the first game at our place.”