AUSTIN — Every time Ponder made a run against Tatum in Saturday’s Class 2A state final, it seemed the Eagles would soon answer with a bigger one.
In the closing minutes of the third quarter, the Lions went on a run Tatum finally had no answer for and stormed to a 66-56 win in front of a crowd of 10,537 to claim the program’s fifth state championship and first since 2010.
“It’s extremely difficult to find words to describe what just happened, but I’ll do my best. We are very blessed,” Ponder head coach Jude Stanley said. “Our kids are resilient. We were down 13 [in the third quarter]. We just told them they had to stack some stops on top of each other and we’d be fine, if they’d play defense.”
In the final three minutes of the third quarter, Ponder (32-7), the state’s No. 4 team in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class 2A poll, started a run that carried over into the fourth quarter. When the dust had cleared, the Lions had reeled off a 17-2 run to take a 48-47 lead with 7:03 remaining in the game after a Cameron Sallee layup off a stolen inbound pass followed a Brady Anderson 3-pointer.
With the Lions playing without freshman long-range threat Chase Harris, who scored a game-high 20 points in Friday’s semifinal win while suffering a broken nose and concussion, Stanley needed someone else to step up in the scoring department.
The surprising result was reserve guard Logan McCarty, the normal sixth man who started in Harris’ place and scored 14 points. The logical result was Anderson, a sophomore point guard who scored just two points on Friday.
Anderson struggled in the first half on Saturday, shooting 1-for-7 from the field with just two points before exploding in the second half on 6-of-7 shooting and two 3-pointers to finish with 19 points while getting to the bucket at will late in the game.
“I just played my game,” Anderson said. “I kept doing what I was doing in the first half. It was just falling for me [in the second half]. First half, it might not have been falling, but I still played hard. It just went better in the second half.”
Stanley said it was only a sign of things to come for the Lions, as Anderson looked like a different player in the second half than he had in the first game and a half of his state tournament career.
“That was a young man that really emerged on this big stage,” Stanley said. “You saw the kinds of tools he has in his toolbox and the things he can do. We’re going to see that for a couple of more years now. He asserted himself, too. He took it on his shoulders for a while. He wasn’t getting beat today.
“I think you saw the will to win. I think you saw that second, third and fourth gear from him. The adrenaline and emotions took over. He was able to channel that and really attack them.”
And just like most other Ponder opponents this year, No. 2 Tatum (35-5) had no answer inside for forward Clay Morgan. The 6-foot-6 senior finished the day with 21 points and 14 rebounds and added a historic bucket late in the game to give the Lions a comfortable lead.
Nursing a four-point lead, Morgan missed a shot under the basket, grabbed his own rebound and put up another one, despite being fouled. The shot fell and the ensuing free throw was his 2,000th career point to give Ponder a 58-51 lead with 2:18 remaining. He finished his career with 2,003 points.
“I wasn’t even thinking about that at all,” Morgan said. “I just knew we had to win this game. I don’t really know what to say. I’m so tired.”
Tatum’s man-to-man pressure defense did that, and it built the Eagles a 16-7 lead after the first quarter and an eight-point halftime lead.
Tatum head coach Brett Carr said he was surprised to see his team in foul trouble, as Ponder was shooting in the double-bonus before the third quarter came to a close. Tatum was whistled for 27 fouls, while Ponder committed 16.
“Quite frankly, I’m not taking anything away from Ponder and Jude does a great job, and I think they rose to the occasion of having a kid [Harris] out and played on another level,” Carr said. “Honestly, I thought there were some calls in the game — they rode us hard. It’s calling the kettle black because we ride kids hard, too, but we were in foul trouble and they really weren’t.
“We want to be the team that gets in the bonus early, but I thought some kids made some fantastic plays and quite frankly, I thought there were some very poor calls.”
Tatum frustrated Ponder, as well. Senior center Josh Peterson let the Eagles’ brand of play get the best of him in the third quarter when he committed an intentional foul that resulted in a seven-point swing in 15 seconds to put the Lions down by 13 points.
Peterson owned up to his mistake in the postgame news conference and seemed happy with the final result even if he wasn’t on the floor for the final two minutes after a shot to the nose resulted in a bloody mess.
“It was frustrating,” Peterson said. “They’re a real good team and they were doing a good job of answering whenever we scored. They’re a very physical team and very hands-on. It was frustrating.
“I lost my head in the third quarter, which I shouldn’t have done. I served my time in karma, though, because I was on the bench the last two minutes [with a bloody nose.] You know what, though? I’m OK with it. We won.”
Morgan was named the state championship game most valuable player, and Stanley summed up his big man’s career after it ended in the best way possible.
“It’s bittersweet for me,” Stanley said. “Of course, selfishly, I hate to see him moving on and graduating. He’s had a tremendous career and it just ended on the big stage with a state championship.”
Ponder 66, Tatum 56
TATUM (35-5) — Willis, Klifton 6-15 2-4 17; Rockwell, Robbie 4-12 2-2 12; Brooks, Chaston
2-11 6-7 10; Williams, Martin 3-7 2-2 8; Smith, Kyshaun 2-4 1-4 6; Carr, Casey 1-1 0-0 3; Alexander, Devonte 0-0 0-0 0; Shans, Jaylen 0-0 0-0 0; Lee, Jakoby 0-0 0-0 0; Johnson, Jahee 0-2 0-2 0; Centers, Donovan 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 18-55 13-21 56.
PONDER (32-7) — Morgan, Clay 7-14 7-12 21; Anderson, Brady 7-14 3-6 19; McCarty, Logan 4-4 5-6 14; Sallee, Cameron 2-3 2-4 7; Peterson, Josh 1-3 1-2 3; Ferguson, Dustin 1-1 0-0 2; Ford, Foster 0-0 0-0 0; Ordunaiya, Dare 0-0 0-0 0; Hudson, Cole 0-0 0-0 0; Worthington,Christia 0-0 0-0 0; Ford, Peyton 0-0 0-0 0; Reames, Craig 0-0 0-0 0; Davenport, Jared 0-0 0-0 0; Spiker, Austin 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-40 18-30 66.
3-point goals — Tatum 7-24 (Willis, Klifton 3-9; Rockwell, Robbie 2-8; Carr, Casey 1-1; Smith, Kyshaun 1-3; Centers, Donovan 0-1; Williams, Martin 0-2); Ponder 4-7 (Anderson, Brady 2-4; McCarty, Logan 1-1; Sallez, Cameron 1-1; Spiker, Austin 0-1). Fouled out — Tatum: Johnson, Jahee, Ponder: McCarty, Logan. Rebounds — Tatum 32 (Brooks, Chaston 9), Ponder 33 (Morgan, Clay 14). Assists — Tatum 9 (Brooks, Chaston 3), Ponder 11 (Sallez, Cameron 4). Total fouls — Tatum 27, Ponder 16. Technical fouls — none. A — 10,537.