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For the fifth straight year the Paris Wildcats basketball team has reached the Class 3A playoff crossroads in the area round. To break through that hurdle and advance to the regional quarterfinals they will have to upset a tall, talented, and familiar opponent in the Kilgore Bulldogs.
They get that shot Friday night in Mount Pleasant, thanks to a methodical 52-41 win Tuesday night at McKinney North High School over bi-district opponent Crandall Pirates (17-12 and the No. 3 seed from District 14). Come Friday, the Cats hope to avenge a 52-50 loss to Kilgore in the 2013 playoffs.
The area round has been a playoff nemisis for Paris in recent years. The Cats also lost close games in 2012 (to Lindale), 2011 (Lindale), and 2010 (Carrollton Ranchview). In 2009 they advanced to the Region 2 tournament semifinals where they were eliminated by Pleasant Grove.
Although Paris (23-8) and Kilgore have not met this season, they are familiar opponents. Kilgore head coach Jeff Coleman has brought his squad to Paris the past four years to play in the Paris Holiday Invitational. The Bulldogs lost this season’s tournament championship game to Bonham, but they feature a tall, athletic lineup that stands 5-11, 6-3, 6-4, 6-5, and 6-7.
The Cats get the opportunity to play Kilgore by virtue of a complete game mastery over the Pirates Tuesday night. Leading scorer Seljah Johnson once again led the way with 22 points, but every Paris player who saw action in the game scored and contributed to one of the Cats’ best efforts of the season.
The game was tied, 10-10, after one quarter, but Paris took the lead for good, 15-13, on a Johnson 3-pointer. At a critical junction of the contest, Paris head coach Billy Mack Steed sent his second unit onto the court and they responded with some quality minutes that enabled the Cats to take a 23-16 halftime lead.
Reserve sophomore guard Jalen Wallace, who has suffered through inconsistent play all season, was particularly impressive at pushing the pace. His halfcourt bounce pass that threaded its way through a slim opening between two Pirates and found a streaking K. D. Scott for a fast-break bucket was the highlight play of the night.
Wallace also fed Jared Embry for a big basket, and sprinted out of nowhere for a loose rebound and putback that gave Paris a 21-16 edge as the first team checked back into the game with 2:08 until intermission. Johnson then droped in a one-hander to create the 7-point separation as the teams headed to the locker room.
The second half started strong for Paris as Johnson knocked down a 12-foot pullup jumper, and a Pirate turnover created a fast-break bucket by Ronyae Bell to lift the lead to double digits, 27-16. A Crandall mini-run of 6-0, fueled by Tanner Dykman’s 3-pointer, an errant Cat pass, and momentary inability to block out rebounders on foul attempts, closed the margin to 27-23.
Jordan Embry then made two foul shots, Johnson added a pair from the charity stripe, and the 6-4 junior stalwart powered his way for a 3-point play that restored the Cats’ lead to 11, 34-23. Crandall was never able to get closer than 9 points the remainder of the evening.
The Pirates also refused, or were unable to break their style of attack which featured extensive perimeter passing. As the third quarter neared a close, Crandall ran off two precious minutes without a shot on goal only to see Scott get a steal and lead another outlet break. It was Paris by 35-23 after three quarters and time for some desperation fouling.
The Cats were ready and made an impressive 19 of 24 attempts from the foul line to keep the Pirates at bay.
In addition to Johnson’s 22, Paris got 7 points from Adrian Beamon, and 6 each from Bell and Roy’D Jones. Dykman led Crandall with 14 and outside shooter Nick Johnson scored 10.