TAMPA — With his team trailing by five entering the fourth quarter of Friday night’s Class 6A-District 9 showdown against Lennard High, Jefferson boys basketball coach Eric Hayes told his players defense and rebounding would be their only path to victory.
The Dragons, who settled for several 3-point shots in the first half, buckled down on the defensive glass and made crucial steals in the first three minutes of the quarter, sparking an 11-3 run en route to a 74-68 victory.
The win gave Jefferson (17-5, 12-1) sole possession of first place in the district standings with a possibility to clinch the top seed in the district tournament against Leto next week.
“We have a saying, ‘Three stops,’ ” Hayes said. “If they get three stops and convert them into three baskets, that’s how we get back in the game. I think in that span we got three stops.”
Jefferson led by seven with 1:37 left to play, but Lennard (15-4, 11-2) went on a run of its own, cutting the deficit to two with 49 seconds remaining.
The Longhorns attempted a 3-pointer from the corner to take the lead, but the shot bounced off the rim and Jefferson’s Maurice Moore got the rebound and was fouled, sending him to the free throw line, where he made both for a 72-68 advantage.
Moore, who played in his third game since injuring his leg before the season, finished with a team-high 23 points.
“Tonight was a game, especially with their press, that if we give him the ball he can help us out,” Hayes said. “He came through. He did some things. He still made some mistakes because he’s still trying to get himself in playing shape, but hopefully by districts he’ll be ready to go.
Lennard, which got 24 points from Caelen Watts, won the first meeting, 72-70.
“They were looking forward to this, plus they knew if we won this game and won against Leto we’ll have the No. 1 seed in the district tournament,” Hayes said. “Not saying anyone is easier, but we wouldn’t have to see them or Chamberlain possibly until the final. That and we felt like we didn’t play well the last time we played them.”