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Finishing touch: Strong fourth pushes Panthers past Richardson, into regional semis
BY Matt Welch, firstname.lastname@example.org
PLANO -- In the closing seconds of Tuesday's Region II quarterfinal against Richardson, Plano East senior Jarvis Pugh glided down the court for an emphatic fastbreak dunk.
It was a fitting exclamation point on the fourth quarter, which saw the Panthers at last distance themselves from a gritty Eagles squad for a 74-66 win that will send East to the regional tournament for the first time in five years.
"This is a great accomplishment," Pugh said. "We haven't been this far in the playoffs in a while, so it feels great to bring that pride back to Plano East basketball."
That margin was triggered by an 11-0 run by the Panthers to start the quarter.
"I thought we quit settling and we got a couple offensive rebounds," said Jeff Clarkson, East head coach. "We hadn't been going to the glass real well and we finally got to the offensive glass and created some huge baskets."
Among those buckets was an and-one converted by Pugh off a putback and a 3-pointer sunk by senior Marcus Mathieu, who scored 18 points, for a 58-50 lead.
Junior Trey Patterson followed with a make from beyond the arc, Pugh scored on an off-balance tip-in and junior Zach Smith threw down a dunk in transition for East's largest lead of the night at 65-52 with 3:30 remaining in the game.
"We wanted this one more than they did," Pugh said. "We pushed and worked hard this whole week in practice because we knew we had a shot to make it to Waco."
Pugh scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half and chipped in big from the free throw line down the stretch as East made 8-of-9 free throws in the final frame and sunk 16-of-18 overall.
Senior Pat Birt, also celebrating his birthday on Tuesday, aided with five free throws in the fourth quarter for 22 total points on the night.
"We made some huge free throws and played great D down the stretch," Clarkson said. "Richardson's a hard team to guard. I've watched a bunch of tape on [Richardson guard Brandon Scott] and I haven't seen anyone who can stay in front of him."
Scott was the Eagles' last fleeting hope, carving his way to the basket to score eight of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and while Richardson closed the gap to as few as 69-64, free throws and Pugh's breakaway dunk sealed the win.
It was a measure of separation that eluded the Panthers for the first three quarters on Tuesday, as Richardson came out firing from the get-go. A jumper by Jordan Walker, who scored 12 points for Richardson in the first half, gave the Eagles a brief 14-12 lead but was promptly countered by quarter's end by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Birt to put the Panthers in front, 21-18.
Birt scored 13 points in the opening quarter and had 17 total in the first half. East kept at it in the second stanza, never trailing but still unable to gain a measure of separation. Scott assured as much in the half's closing seconds when the 5-foot-11 guard dropped a high-arcing floater over 6-foot-7 senior Xavier Smith to tie the count at 34-34 at the break.
The Eagles led by as many as four points at 43-39 in the third, aided by a steal-layup combo by Nylan Yancy, who scored 14 points. Pugh caught fire though, responding with nine points in the frame, highlighted by a vicious putback dunk to give East a 46-43 lead but Richardson's Jake Moore had the answer with a late 3-pointer to knot the game at 50-50 entering the fourth quarter.
A spot where the Eagles have thrived all postseason, the Panthers didn't permit any late-game heroics by Richardson this time around and as a result, are bound for Waco Midway Friday for a 6 p.m. tilt against Austin Anderson in the Region II semifinals.
"It's a big tribute to our players because they're such likeable guys and our school has really rallied around them," Clarkson said. "I went to Plano East and we had a team like this and I've never seen it like this ever."
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