GLEN ROSE — Ponder’s Clay Morgan knew the importance of setting the tone early in the playoff opener, and he delivered.
The senior co-captain scored 18 points in the opening half to help the Lions build a 29-point halftime lead en route to an 81-36 win over Rio Vista in a Class 2A Region II bi-district playoff game Tuesday night.
“We didn’t want to have a letdown or anything, and my teammates found me when I was open and I just finished,” Morgan said.
Ponder (26-7), ranked No. 5 on the Texas Basketball Coaches Association poll, advanced to the area round to play Van Alstyne.
Morgan finished with a game-high 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting, mostly from inside the paint. Ponder head coach Jude Stanley praised Morgan and the rest of his six seniors for stepping up in the postseason opener.
“[Morgan] is a three-year starter, and he’s one of those guys that has a knack for getting in the right spot, and he can score the basketball,” Stanley said. “He’s definitely a threat on both ends, because his defense tonight was very good as well. It’s great for seniors like that to get into a playoff atmosphere and get to showcase their talents.”
Ponder opened the game in a full-court press and forced seven Rio Vista turnovers before halftime, but the Lions’ didn’t just stop playing defense after the press was broken. Rio Vista shot just 7-for-27 in the opening half as Ponder was able to pull away for a huge early lead.
Stanley said pressuring the ball for the entire length of the court helped Ponder quicken the pace of the game and build momentum early.
“It’s good to get our feet wet playing playoff basketball and playing up-tempo like we like to play,” Stanley said. “We got some easy buckets off our defense and that carried us through the ball game.”
Morgan, who added three rebounds and one assist on the night, didn't miss a shot in the second quarter, going 5-for-5 and adding a free throw to help the Lions take a 45-16 lead into halftime.
He punctuated a 16-6 run midway through the second quarter with fast-break dunk on a lead pass from sophomore Brady Anderson, who finished with 12 points, six assists and four steals.
Ponder went 5-for-18 in the opening quarter and shot more efficiently in the second to finish 15-for-32 in the first half.
Rio Vista (14-13) struggled against the Lions’ press in the first half, turning the ball over seven times and going 7-for-27 from the field. Ponder was also able to extend its early lead by owning a 16-7 advantage on the boards in the first half.
Morgan opened the second half by scoring Ponder’s first six points as the Lions cruised ahead to a 65-27 lead after the third quarter.
Ponder's starters sat out during the final period, but the Lions maintained a 16-9 advantage in the quarter to secure the win.
Rio Vista’s James Angeley and Tyler Crowe carried the offensive load for the Eagles with 10 points apiece, while Austin Hodshire had nine.
Senior co-captain Josh Peterson said the win builds Ponder’s steam in what he hopes is a long playoff run.
“It’s a pretty big win because we have some freshmen on the team, so it’s good to get a playoff win under our belt,” said Peterson, who had two points and eight rebounds. “It was a good morale booster because we played a good game and jumped on them early.”
Ponder 81, Rio Vista 36
Ponder (26-7) — Clay Morgan 25, Brady Anderson 12, Austin Spiker 9, ChaseHarris 6, Peyton Ford 6, Logan McCarty 6, Cameron Sallee 6, Christian Worthington 4, Dustin Ferguson 3, Jared Davenport 2, Josh Peterson 2.
Rio Vista (14-13) — James Angeley 10, Tyler Crowe 10, Austin Hodshire 9, dylan Nelson 4, Gareth Crisp 2.