STEPHENVILLE — New Boston center Dale Roberts has a reputation as a defensive force, one that theoretically could help contain Ponder’s Clay Morgan, one of the best big men in Class 2A.
Early in Friday’s Region II semifinal, Roberts showed his defensive prowess with two big blocked shots, but he just as quickly got into foul trouble trying to deal with Ponder’s senior post player and had to sit.
That’s when Morgan and Ponder made their move, as Morgan finished with a game-high 33 points to lead Ponder to a 68-57 win at Tarleton State’s Wisdom Gym, and within one win of another trip to the state tournament after three straight state titles from 2008-10.
“We got [Roberts] in foul trouble so he had to sit, and that gave us a huge advantage inside,” said Morgan, who is 46 points shy of 2,000 for his career. “We knew their middle guy roamed, so we could slip in for easy buckets.”
Ponder now will face District 9-2A foe Brock (29-7), the No. 5 team in Class 2A, at 2 p.m. today for a trip to the state tournament. The teams split their two games this season — a one-point Ponder win Jan. 21 and an 11-point Brock win Dec. 20 — and Brock beat Ponder in last year’s regional final.
Brock defeated Red Oak Life 62-54 in the other semifinal Friday night.
“It’s only fitting to have Ponder-Brock for the regional final coming out of the toughest district in the state of Texas,” Ponder coach Jude Stanley said.
Morgan found himself open along the baseline throughout the game, and his quickness to the hoop was too much for New Boston (20-8) to contain, as he had 20 points at halftime.
Morgan’s postmate, fellow senior Josh Peterson, finished with 10 points. Sophomore point guard Brady Anderson had 11 points, six assists and nine rebounds for Ponder (29-7), the state’s fourth-ranked team playing in its 10th regional tournament in the past 14 years.
“It opened things up for us,” Stanley said of Roberts’ foul trouble. “Both our post guys were able to get some easy buckets down low. When you can get them the ball in easy scoring position, they’re going to have big nights. Clay’s one of the best players in the state of Texas, and he showed that tonight.”
An 11-1 run for Ponder over the final five minutes of the first half put the game out of reach for New Boston, as the Ponder lead ballooned to 22 points at halftime thanks to Morgan and back-to-back 3-pointers from freshman Chase Harris and Anderson.
Ponder was able to neutralize New Boston’s athleticism and defense, which employed press and trap tactics, and that led to some big runs for Ponder.
“When we made the big run in the second quarter, it was about putting the passes on target and controlling the tempo of the game,” Stanley said. “We really came into this game wanting to take what the defense gave us. We got good looks and were able to finish, and that put their defense on their heels.”
After building a 22-point lead with a little more than four minutes remaining, Stanley pulled many of his starters. New Boston made a bit of a run to close the Ponder lead to 12 points with two minutes remaining.
Despite that brief, mild scare, Stanley said it was nice to have a relaxing victory in the semifinals after last year’s two-point win over Red Oak Life before a 10-point loss to Brock in the final.
“It’s a blessing to be able to rest some guys late in the game,” Stanley said. “On Saturday when you get into the regional final, you can get dead-legged in a hurry. We played the early game tonight, too, so that gives us a chance tomorrow to be a little more fresh than we were this year at this point. But it doesn’t matter — we still have to go out and play the game.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.
Ponder 68, New Boston 57
New Boston (20-8) — Jeff Gladney 16, Quinn Dedmon 12, Thomas Kelly 12, Todd Rigsby 4, Dale Roberts 9, Aaron Conkleton 2, Taquain Dedmon 2.
Ponder (29-7) — Clay Morgan 33, Brady Anderson 11, Josh Peterson 10, Chase Harris 8, Cameron Sallee 2, Logan McCarty 2, Dustin Ferguson 2.