As Plano’s Justin Buenventura’s final shot sank through the hoop at the buzzer, Plano East’s players collapsed to the floor in agony while their rivals celebrated on their home court.
A battle between the No. 8 Plano Wildcats and No. 12 Plano East Panthers for the second time this season came down to the final possession. Plano went the length of the court in 4.5 seconds to sink the game-winning 3-point field goal as time expired, winning the game 52-50.
Head coach Matt Wester quickly had to pick up the pieces for his team.
“I told the guys that the difference between our locker room and their locker room is one play,” Wester said. “One mistake, one shot is all the difference between winning and feeling great and losing and feeling down. We’ve played some of the best teams in the state and competed with them and I think we proved again we can do just that.”
It was a quick change of emotion after Plano East took a 50-49 lead on an alley-oop layup and foul from Jordan Mizell with 25.5 seconds left. It was a play the team had run a few times earlier in the game and earlier in the season but capitalized on the Plano defense losing Mizell at the rim.
“We had run it before and sometimes as the season goes along you have to adjust plays as teams begin to scout you a little more,” Wester said. “We didn’t think the lob would be there for us, so the plan was to have Jordan pop back out and reverse the ball around the perimeter for a shot, but it was good recognition from Isaiah [Brewington] to make the pass and great on Jordan for finishing it.”
Despite the momentary high, Plano East missed two free throws down the stretch that could’ve helped seal the game and opened the door for Plano late. The Wildcat’s win put them at 10-1 in the district, one game ahead of the Panthers who they have now defeated twice by a combined score of three points.
Despite the loss, the Panthers continue to impress as one of the surprise basketball teams of the season, climbing the state rankings as they continue to win games. They’re currently 27-4 on the season and 9-2 in District 6-6A after the loss, good enough for second in a competitive district. The high win numbers aren’t for a lack of being battle-tested either, as a look across the state rankings would see Plano, Lake Highlands, San Antonio powerhouses Brennan, Veterans Memorial and Reagan, along with several other competitive programs. While the Panthers have managed to scrap a few wins against some of the best, they’re ready to take the next step and make a playoff run this season.
“Whatever it takes to make the next step, I think we have it and we just have to prove it,” Wester said. “We’ve proven we’re very good and it’s one of the most highly-rated teams in school history. We’ve lost four games to teams ranked in the top eight, but we’ve competed and we’re hoping to rebound from the disappointment of that game.”
Plano East wraps up the regular season with two more games, hosting Hebron this Friday before traveling to Flower Mound next Tuesday, Feb. 14. With just a couple of games left to recover before the end of the regular season, the Panthers have already clinched a playoff spot but are battling for district seeding.
“It’s a tough battle for playoffs, with some competitive teams ahead of us,” Wester said. “The last time we lost to Plano, I was really impressed with how the players responded and played well in their next game. I’m hoping we can do that again this time.”
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