WILLS POINT — The John Tyler Lady Lions pointed toward the postseason as the time to peak, and they enter the playoffs doing just that with a six-game winning streak.
JT (22-11) meets Red Oak (25-9) in a Class 4A bi-district basketball playoff game tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Wills Point High School gym.
The Lady Lions finished second in District 16-4A, and defeated district champion and No. 18 Lindale during a hot stretch to end the regular season.
Red Oak tied for second in District 15-4A, but lost a district playoff with defending state champion Mansfield Summit to receive the third seed. Red Oak split two regular season meetings with Summit before losing the district playoff, 47-44.
The Lady Lions showed a flair for the dramatic the previous three weeks, beating Lindale and Whitehouse on buzzer-beaters. JT enters the playoffs as district runner-up for the third straight year. JT handed the eventual district champion its lone setback in league play each of the three seasons
“You always want to be playing your best now,” JT head coach Mike Smith said. “We played some sloppy games during the season. That last loss against Whitehouse woke us up. The kids became more determined. They’ve done a great job in practice doing some things that’s made it better.”
A pair of four-year varsity players, 5-4 senior guard Tiaka Lee and 5-6 senior guard Quaneshia Johnson, lead the Lady Lions. Four of the Lady Lions’ top performers played on last year’s team that defeated Texas High in bi-district before losing in the area round. Key returnees include Lee (14.0 points, 3.7 assists, 2.5 steals per game), Johnson (10.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 steals per game) and 5-7 senior forward Nola Jackson (5.3 points, 5.7 rebounds per game).
“Those seniors are outstanding ladies,” Smith said. “They’ve done a lot for the program.”
Key underclassmen contribute for the Lady Lions as well: 5-9 sophomore forward Amia Wickware (10.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.8 steals, 1.4 blocks per game), 5-7 freshman wing Ashtyn Beal (7.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.9 steals, 1.0 blocks per game) and sophomore guard Tameal Jones (9.2 points, 3.2 steals per game).
Statistically, JT holds the edge on offense and Red Oak on defense. JT averages 58.5 points and allows 51.8. Red Oak counters by scoring 49.6 points and yielding 35.8 points per game.
Red Oak held 20 opponents to 40 points or below. Red Oak looks to the trio of 5-6 senior guard Diamond Lockhart (14.0 ppg), 5-11 sophomore forward Chelsea Warren (8.9 ppg) and 5-2 senior guard Taylor McCollough (8.3 points) for buckets.
The teams share a common opponent in Winnsboro. Red Oak topped Winnsboro 46-39 in a defensive struggle in December. JT beat Winnsboro 63-59 in a faster-paced non-district game also in December.
Eight of nine players, including junior post Kayla Webb and sophomore post Donisiha Rouege, recorded points in JT’s 56-33 win over Corsicana in the regular season finale. JT assisted on 11 of 24 field goals, with reserve guard Key-Ana Tatum one of three players, along with Jones and Lee, to finish with two helpers.
“You have to know each one of your teammates,” Lee said. “We know everyone is on the team for a reason. We’re going to all make mistakes, but when it comes down to it, and we need something, we work together to get what we want, which is a win.”
LIONS’ TALES: The winner between JT and Red Oak moves on to the area round later in the week to face McKinney North, a 78-26 winner over Pine Tree Monday. Other bi-district matchups between Districts 15 and 16 feature Lindale against Waxahachie, Mansfield Summit defeated Jacksonville (45-31), and No. 17 Arlington Seguin versus Nacogdoches.