Hurricanes reach state for first time since 2005 with regional-final win over West Oso
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Sam Houston may look like the Cinderella of the Class 3A state finalists – given the Hurricanes’ relative youth and inexperience – but the proverbial glass slipper doesn’t fit quite as well as some might believe.
The Hurricanes (27-9) were ranked No. 6 in the final Texas Association of Basketball Coaches state poll. They’ll play No. 1 Dallas Madison (28-3) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin in the semifinals.
The other semifinal will pit No. 2 Kennedale (38-0) against No. 3 Houston Yates (23-8). The winners will play at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Erwin Center for the state championship.
“Everybody in Texas assumes that a team from Dallas or Houston is going to be crowned champion,” Sam Houston coach Ike Thornton said. “San Antonio is always going to come out with something to prove, until we consistently outperform those teams.”
The seventh-year Hurricanes coach, who has guided his team to the school’s first state finals appearance since 2005, doesn’t see Sam Houston as a Cinderella, however,
“That’s definitely not a comfortable spot for us,” Thornton said. “We play a tough schedule. We’ve played teams that play on a level the other three teams (at state) play on.”
Sam Houston has won 15 consecutive games since dropping a 73-53 decision to Churchill Jan. 10. The Chargers reached the regional quarterfinals in 5A.
Madison, whom Sam Houston played earlier in the year, made it to the 5A Region IV finals. Hurricanes opponents Central Catholic and San Antonio Christian advanced to the state quarterfinals in their respective classes, and Sam Houston lost to them by a combined eight points. The Hurricanes defeated Laredo Alexander (73-61), which reached the 5A regional quarters.
Sam Houston played nine 5A playoff qualifiers, defeating Southwest 57-55, El Paso Montwood 60-51 and Johnson 72-58 in addition to Alexander. It blasted 4A qualifier Austin McCallum 59-43.
The Hurricanes’ journey to the state semifinals consisted of five wins by margins of more than 16 points. Sam Houston has averaged 71.8 points and limited opponents to a 49.0 average.
Sam Houston locked in the trip to Austin with a 72-46 win over Corpus Christi West Oso (23-6) Saturday at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi. The Bears eliminated Sam Houston in the regional semifinals in 2011 and 2012.
“They were ready to go,” Thornton said. “We had a 7 a.m. team wake up and several of them were already up and ready to go..They went to bed on time and kept focusing on the task at hand, which was winning the regional.”
The Hurricanes, who will making the school’s sixth trip to state, established a commanding 23-6 lead early in the Region IV championship game. Their lead reached 20 points in the third quarter, and Sam Houston cruised to the victory.
Sam Houston had a 27-8 advantage after eight minutes and led 35-22 at the half. The Bears outscored the Hurricanes 14-8 in the second quarter.
“Watching (West Oso) play in the semifinals against Wharton, we saw that they could get up and down the court in a hurry,” Thornton said. “Wharton pressed pretty much the whole game and it gave West Oso the opportunity to play to their strengths.
“We didn’t press them at all. We played strictly halfcourt defense and mixed it up between a zone and (man-to-man).”
West Oso could get no closer. After the lead reached 20 late in the third quarter, the Bears scored the next four points, but were unable to build on the momentum.
All four classes were represented among Sam Houston’s leading scorers on a team that starts one senior, one junior, two sophomores and a freshman.
Senior Jordon Harris produced a game-high 31 points to lead Sam Houston. Harris scored 17 points in the first half.
“(Jordon) pretty much started it,” Thornton said. “He’s our starting point guard and pretty much cut their head off early in the game, and set the tone.”
Junior post Devin Allen contributed 14 points. Sophomore wing Robert Christian, who is becoming a more consistent scorer in the post season, finished with 14 points. Freshman guard Jawon Anderson added eight points.
The margin of victory actually was typical of the Hurricanes’ postseason run. In the five games, Sam Houston has averaged 71.8 points and limited opponents to a 49.0 average. It has won each of those games by 16 or more points.
Sam Houston advanced to the regional final by defeating 63-42 win over Hidalgo (30-9) Friday at American Bank Center. The Hurricanes forced 26 turnovers.
Although Sam Houston led Hidalgo 16-4 at one point in the first quarter, the Pirates were within 21-17 at halftime.
“We were flat,” Thornton said. “We had foul trouble, and some of the guys on the floor weren’t playing at the same level as some of the guys on the bench had. Also, Jordon didn’t play well in the first half. He was just out of rhythm.”
The Hurricanes scored 11 points in the first two minutes of the second half, knocking down three 3-point baskets during the spurt. Eventually, they scored 15 of the first 17 points in the half to open a 17-point advantage.
By the end of the third-quarter, Sam Houston led 49-27. The Hurricanes scored 28 points in the eight-minute span, while limiting Hidalgo to 10.
The Pirates closed to 55-40 with 4:57 remaining, but the Hurricanes rallied again. Sam Houston finished the game on an 8-2 run.
Hidalgo made the game close at the half after Sam Houston endured a scoring drought of more than six minutes. The Hurricanes mustered just five points in the second quarter.
“We didn’t feel like we were in any danger,” Thornton stressed. “We felt like it was just a matter of time before we broke the game open.”
Harris, one of just two seniors in the Hurricanes’ playing rotation and the only senior starter, led Sam Houston with 22 points. Christian produced 18 points. Allen chipped in 11 points. Sophomore Raymonte Prime contributed eight.
Sam Houston is the second team that Thornton has taken to the state tournament, but the first in Texas. The University of Texas-San Antonio alum coached Trotwood Madison, in suburban Dayton, to the large-school classification state tourney 0in Ohio nine years ago.
Then his wife, a San Antonio native, took a job here and he left the junior-dominated team behind. A year later, Thornton landed the Sam Houston job.
The Hurricanes reached the 3A regional semifinals for the fourth-consecutive year. Last season, they advanced to the finals but lost to Royal.
“The last three years have affected the coaching staff more than the kids,” he said. “Primarily, we tried to look in the mirror at our shortcomings and saw what we needed to change. We tried to grow from it every year.
“My first year as a varsity coach in Ohio, after we lost in the playoffs, the next day I went to my mailbox and found this note: ‘The elevator to the top is broken. You must take the stairs.’
“I had never heard that before, but I’ve tried to in my (mind) since.”
Sam Houston made the climb in time to build a bridge to next season, when the returnees will move up to Class 5A (currently 4A) to join their fellow SAISD teams, along with traditional basketball hotbeds Harlandale and McCollum.
“We’re young enough that this should inspire the kids to work hard in the offseason and prepare,” Thornton said, “especially since we’re going to make the jump up to 5A next year.”