BY BRIAN BESCH
For the first time in three years, the Livingston Lions have won a district basketball game. In a streaky contest, the Lions outlasted the Caney Creek Panthers 52-47 Friday in Livingston.
A 48-39 score heading into the fourth quarter set the Lions up for success. A 6-0 Caney Creek run to start the period caused Livingston coach Brian Coffman to grab a time out. One made free throw would close the gap to two.
With 1:36 Livingston's Jay Cooper made both ends of a one-and-one, pushing the score to 50-46. A steal and a foul put the Lions back on the line, where Cameron Merchant missed both, but Livingston tracked down the offensive rebound. Josh Staples hit a layup, giving the Lions a six-point lead.
Caney Creek managed just one more point when Tyvance Brown made one of two free throws to close out the scoring.
"We won, but we were up by 12 and let them creep back in," Coffman said. "I love it for these guys. It is our first district win in three years. I think we won one district game three years ago. This was the end of the first round of district games and we've got seven more. We're hoping we can at least get another one out of it."
Livingston used the first period to attack the basket, which opened jumpers on the outside. The Lions were able to hold the lead the entire quarter after opening with a 5-0 advantage.
Good defense to begin the frame turned into a group that reached in and did not establish position as time progressed. The Lions were whistled for six fouls in the last four minutes of the quarter. Still, they were able to maintain a 17-11 lead heading into the second period.
The Panthers whittled the game down to two points at 19-17 before a quick 6-0 Lions run prompted a Caney Creek time out. The pause in action did not seem to help, as Livingston used good ball movement to find another open shot. The foul line produced three more, capping a 12-0 run.
"We'll hit a bunch of shots and then we'll go cold. We'll dribble drive and make a bunch, play phenomenal defense and fast break on them, then we'll slow the ball down," Coffman said. "It's a tempo thing and we go up and down. Sometimes it hurts and sometimes it benefits us. We're doing a lot of drills to finish at the basket and we are doing a good job of that. We still take a few bad shots, but that's our maturity. Those are getting less and less, and we are getting better at it. When I started a year and a half ago in August to where we are right now, it is night and day."
Again, Caney Creek fought back. Damian Hem connected on a desperate heave for three at the buzzer to pull the Panthers back to within three, at 33-30.
In the third, a double technical sent a Panther to the locker room early and gave the Lions three free throws that they capitalized on.
An injury to Hem momentarily sent him to the bench after he came down awkwardly following a made shot. It was one of two occasions he limped off the court. Though he would return, the injury looked to have an impact. The senior had 19 points in the contest, but only four of the total came in the second half. The Lions continued to attack on both ends, using a stifling man defense and driving to the basket on offense.
Hem led the Panthers with 19, while Myke Rucker had 16. Staples was tops for Livingston with 15 points and JerMichael Harrell added 10.
"We are nine wins into the season, which is four better than we were last year," Coffman said. "I'm starting to see the kids grow and come along. (Staples) is a sophomore and he is able to shoot well. Whenever Cameron Merchant (a junior) does what I need him to do, he is a phenomenal player. I've got four seniors on the bench, but those juniors and sophomores are the core, they really do a good job for me."
The next Lion home game will be Friday, as they welcome the Rangers of Bryan Rudder High.