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Bulldogs finish strong in win over Groesbeck

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Bulldogs Courtney Byrd (24) and Bre'dron Tucker (22) battle for a rebound during Friday night's district match-up against Groesbeck. Crockett defeated the Goats 72-64 to remain in second place in district play.  ARRY LAMB  | HCCBulldogs Courtney Byrd (24) and Bre'dron Tucker (22) battle for a rebound during Friday night's district match-up against Groesbeck. Crockett defeated the Goats 72-64 to remain in second place in district play. ARRY LAMB | HCC

By Larry Lamb
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CROCKETT --  The Groesbeck Goats came to town Friday night looking for revenge after falling to Crockett on a buzzer-beater on Jan. 6.

Even on an off-night, the Bulldogs were able to fend off the challengers with a late spurt to win, 72-64.

Crockett (8-1) remains in second place in District 20-3A behind Franklin (9-0). Crockett is ranked No. 14 in the TABC state poll and Franklin is No. 12.

Fairfield and Groesbeck sit third and fourth, respectively, in the district standings with five games left.

The Bulldogs host Westwood on Friday and travel to Fairfield next Tuesday,

Crockett led  Groesbeck 21-18 after a quarter, 36-27 at the half and 52-51 after three.

The Bulldogs opened up an eight-point lead with 5:50 left in the game before Groesbeck cut it back to four, 61-57.

Keshun Easterling scored two straight buckets and D. J. Walker capped a 6-0 run that gave the Bulldogs a 67-57 lead with 3:02 left.

Groesbeck got no closer than six the rest of the way.

Bulldogs head coach Drae Murray said switching from man-to-man defense to zone late in the game was a key factor.

"It was taking Groesbeck like a minute to even get a shot up so that 1-3-1 defense actually saved us. I don't really like playing zone but it's something we keep in the tool box in case we need it and it worked out in our favor tonight," said the coach. 

Murray noted the Bulldogs started off the game strong but began to falter when three starters got into early foul trouble. "It just went down hill from there," he said.

Walker and Easterling picked up two early fouls and Tayshawn Simon finished the half with three fouls.

"That's three starters right there that we rely on to do a lot of things. We relied on our bench guys who were able to keep us afloat, but the momentum and energy level went down in the second quarter,” said Murray.

“We closed out the second pretty strong. Jadyn (Collins) took control of the game for a little while late in the second and early in the third. That helped us get our offensive game going. Defensively, we just weren’t good tonight.”

Collins, who finished the night with 23 points, energized the Bulldogs with 11 in the second quarter and 10 in the third.

After Groesbeck cut the lead to 26-24 with 3:00 left in the first half, Collins sparked a 10-3 run to put the Dogs up 36-27 at the break.

The Goats got within four early in the second half but Crockett staged an 8-0 run on three baskets by Collins and one by Easterling to pull away 44-32.

Groesbeck answered with a 19-8 run to make it a one-point game, 52-51, heading into the fourth.

“They’re well coached and they’re physical. Everybody knows we want to go to the dribble weave and once we get in that, Groesbeck did a good job of jumping it. They’re physical with us so it makes the handoff a lot tougher,” said Murray. “It was the same way when we played them the first time. That’s how we were able to get some back doors on them at times.”

Simon booked 20 points, including three treys, and Easterling, who had 10 points in the final period, finished the night with 15.

Walker scored 7, Courtney Byrd 6 and Antwaain Boston 1.

One bright spot was Crockett’s free throw shooting. Simon made 7 of 8, Collins 6 of 8, Byrd 4 of 4 and Easterling 3 of 3. 

“I had suspicions that we wouldn’t have our best night because our shoot-around was really bad today. I warned the guys you can’t take any team lightly or take them for granted. Everyone wants to beat you because you’re one of the top-ranked teams in the state. We took something from them on their home court and they came here to take something from us,” said Murray in reference to the Bulldogs’ earlier 77-76 win.

Although the Goats lost to Franklin, 54-53, last Tuesday, Murray expects them to make the playoffs.

“They’re a tough, hard-playing ball club that’s in the playoff hunt so I’m sure they’ll finish in the top four,” said Murray.

Last Tuesday, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 22-6 lead on the way to beating Elkhart, 73-34.

Byrd led with 17 points, Easterling had 14, Collins 13 (4 treys) and Simon 12.

Other scorers were Boston with 5, Tucker 4, and Ajani Ellis and Iverson Rischer with 2 apiece.

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