PONDER — With a familiar foe possibly awaiting Ponder in the Class 2A Region II final this weekend, it first must deal with something a little more foreign.
In order to get to a possible regional championship matchup against District 9-2A rival Brock, which ended Ponder’s season one round short of the state tournament in 2013, the Lions must overcome an athletic New Boston team at 6 tonight at Tarleton State’s Wisdom Gym.
“We have to handle pressure,” Ponder coach Jude Stanley said. “New Boston will get up and pressure and trap you all over the floor. They have great athletes. They put guys out there at every position that will be quicker than us, so we have to be smart and take care of the ball and be able to score when the opportunity’s there.”
Ponder (28-7), the fourth-ranked team in Class 2A, should be more than ready for the challenge.
The Lions were able to rest their star players in Monday’s 22-point victory over Millsap and were able to sit and scout New Boston’s win over Lone Oak on Tuesday, giving them a day and some change of rest more than New Boston (20-7), which scored a hard-fought win to advance to the regional tournament.
“The more rest we get, the better we usually play,” Ponder sophomore guard Brady Anderson said. “We got to scout them too, so that’s good.”
Anderson will be the focus of much of New Boston’s defensive pressure, as the young point guard will be tasked with breaking down the press and moving the ball up the floor to get it to his many weapons, most notably senior post player Clay Morgan.
Anderson is averaging better than 11 points per game this season — his first as a starter — and leads the team with 3.9 assists per game, many of which are to Morgan, a 6-6 post performer averaging 19.2 points and 7.4 rebounds.
“I know we have other guys that can do well, so I don’t feel much pressure,” Anderson said. “I just have to take care of the ball, and if I do that we’ll be fine. It’s so much fun playing with Clay. Knowing how much he can do takes pressure off me and everyone else. We just give him the ball and let him work.”
While some may see a ferocious pressure defense on a sophomore point guard as risk for failure, Stanley said he believes Anderson is up to the task and will relish the challenge with a chance to put his team one step away from the state tournament, where Ponder has played on seven occasions, winning four titles.
“I think it gives him a lot of opportunities to shine,” Stanley said. “When a team is going to pressure you like that, if you’re able to break the pressure down it gives your guard the opportunity to get multiple assists and open up the game.”
Morgan, a four-year varsity player and three-year starter who is poised to go down as one of Ponder’s all-time leading scorers with as many as four games remaining in his career, said he wants an opportunity to play at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center in the state tournament. The last time Ponder went to the state tournament was the 2009-10 season, which was Morgan’s eighth-grade year. It was the last of three straight Class 2A titles won by Ponder in its first season under Stanley.
“We haven’t been [to the state tournament] since 2010, and that’s awhile for us,” Morgan said. “We’re used to going almost every year, it seems like. That’s a good feeling. Every team you play respects you and knows about Ponder’s tradition. It’s a good feeling to play here.”
With a win to open its 10th trip to the regional tournament in 14 years, Ponder would set a collision course with Brock in Saturday’s final, should it beat Red Oak Life today.
Brock eliminated Ponder last season, and the teams split their district games this season, with Brock winning 50-39 at Ponder in December and Ponder returning the favor with a 49-48 win at Brock on Jan. 21.
Despite Stanley’s insistence on playing one game at a time, Anderson said he wants a third matchup with Eagles.
“I’m really looking forward to playing Brock again,” Anderson said. “I hope it happens and we end up beating them to get to state this year.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.