The Woodlands followed up its toughest loss of the season with its biggest win.
Senior Cole Himmer converted a huge 3-point play with 18 seconds left and then added another late free throw with 3.1 left as The Woodlands escaped with a huge 53-51 District 15-6A win over Klein Forest Tuesday night.
“Tonight, our defense was phenomenal,” The Woodlands coach Dale Reed said afterwards. “We had guys step up and make free throws. We had guys get to the rim. We had guys hit 3s. Just everything tonight. Just so proud of them.”
The Highlanders (18-11, 8-6) came into the night off one of its toughest losses of the year — a 78-75 overtime decision to last-place Klein Collins on Friday. The Tigers made 16 3-pointers for their first district win of the season. Tied for fourth with Conroe — which defeated Oak Ridge 49-43 on Tuesday — entering the night and with three games to play, the Highlanders have very little wiggle room to work with. The win over Klein Forest, also a team that’s on the verge of the playoffs, was huge.
“Biggest win of the season,” Himmer, who totaled six points on a night where he was in significant foul trouble, said afterwards. “It’s a huge push for our playoff run and I’m just proud of everybody. A good week of practice really helped us out.”
The Golden Eagles (18-10, 10-5), the Class 6A state runner-up last year, came in on a bit of a roll with seven wins in their previous eight contests. They entered the night in third place in the league standings.
Tied at 36-all after the third quarter, the Highlanders missed their first seven attempts in the fourth quarter and fell behind 42-36 after Klein Forest senior Daylan Hamilton made two 3-pointers in the first minute. Hamilton had a game-high 30 points.
“I just really wanted to get back in the game because I had four fouls at that point,” Himmer said. “That was a struggle with us. That was really it.”
Klein Forest built up to a nine point lead at the 4:27 mark before the Highlanders chipped away at the deficit. Senior Ben Mills made a big 3-pointer for the Highlanders at the 1:32 mark to pull to a 48-47 game. After a Klein Forest free throw, Mills then made a shot underneath to tie the game up.
The Golden Eagles got a jumper from Hamilton with 29 seconds left for a 51-49 lead. Hamilton fouled out on the next Highlanders offensive possession.
Then Himmer possibly changed the tone for the rest of the season on the next possession.
“He was just huge,” Reed said. “I think he’s the best defender in the district in just his effort and how he gets to spots. He just guards the best player on every single team we play. But for tonight, that offensive play was just as huge. He made some big free throws throughout the whole game.”
The first half was back-and-forth with fouls aplenty called. The Golden Eagles were in the double bonus with just over two minutes left to play in the first quarter and the teams combined on 30 total fouls in the first 16 minutes of action.
The Highlanders got out to a 7-0 lead to start the game, but Klein Forest went on a 17-3 run to lead 17-10 after the first quarter.
The Woodlands went 5 for 6 from the line and Hagen Byerly went on a personal 5-0 run to give the Highlanders a brief 20-17 lead.
Junior Brock Luechtenfeld made it 22-20 on a putback with 4:28 to play in the second quarter, but it was the last Highlander field goal in the half as Klein Forest led 26-24 at the break.
Hamilton scored all nine of the Golden Eagles’ points in the second quarter.
The Woodlands scored the final six points of the third quarter to send the game to the fourth quarter with a 36-36 tie. David Omokwale scored three points as did Byerly on a 3-pointer.
Byerly had a team-high 17 points for the Highlanders. Luechtenfeld added 13 points. Mills had seven of his eight points in the fourth quarter.
Marion Williams added eight points for Klein Forest.
Klein Forest won the first meeting between the two schools on Jan. 10, 66-63, in overtime.
“We just talked about staying the course and continue to do what we do,” Reed said about the Highlanders coming in off a tough loss on Friday. “We really played well at Klein Collins. They just shot the ball so well and deep. We did what we were supposed to do. They made so many shots that we just couldn’t overcome it.”
The Woodlands were as down as one might imagine after that loss. The Tigers were hot from the floor and the Highlanders had a big offensive night.
“We scored our season high and lost,” Himmer said. “We really wanted to just put that behind us and the next game was our mindset.”
The Highlanders are looking for their 15th straight playoff appearance.
“It’s like the big thing you look forward to,” Himmer said of the playoffs. “Senior year, you make the playoffs before anything else. That’s what we kind of live off in the locker room. Make the playoffs and see what we can do from there.”
The Woodlands has another home game Friday as Oak Ridge makes the short trip down Research Forest at 7 p.m.
“We are tied for the fourth spot so whatever Conroe does, we have to do that or better,” Reed said. “Tonight was a huge win because they didn’t beat Klein Forest on Friday and so we did. If we keep winning, we’re going to be in. That’s the whole idea. I just loved our mental toughness that we had.”
Klein Forest travels to last-place Klein Collins on Friday at 7 p.m.