By Tim Taylor
The 5th-ranked Paris Wildcats shot 57% from the field, racked up 28 assists, slammed down another eight crowd-pleasing dunks, and featured three players who each scored at least 20 points Tuesday night in a dominant, 86-67 regional quarterfinal win over District 15-4A rival Liberty-Eylau in a game played at Tyler Junior College Wagstaff Gym.
While veteran Paris coach Billy Mack Steed certainly appreciates his team’s recent offensive showcase performances, if you want to see a big smile creep across his face, mention defense first. In particular, Steed was pleased with the defensive effort against the Leopards’ leading scorer Decorian Meadows.
“I thought it was the key to the game,” he said. “Their team feeds off him. When he’s playing well, it picks up their whole team.”
Meadows finished with a team-high 15 points to lead L-E, 18-13 and the district’s No. 4 seeded team, but most of his total came during garbage time with the outcome already sealed. His first points came on a pair of free throws with 1:07 remaining before halftime. By then, Paris was closing out the first half in command, 39-24.
The Wildcat, who drew the primary task of keeping Meadows in check, was 6-3 junior guard Jalon Pipkins.
“We saw on the previous tape that Meadows didn’t like being covered by (Pipkins),” Steed said. “I think (Pipkins) got in his head and kept him from driving the lane like he likes to do.”
Pipkins was a force on the offensive end as well. He topped a trio of 20-point scorers for the Cats with a game-high 27 points, 12 in the fourth quarter which included a quick drive in the paint through three defenders that drew gasps from the crowd and a pair of back-to-back breakaway slams. He connected on 12 of his 20 shots from the field.
Sophomore 6-3 guard Josh Robinson was equally unstoppable with 26 points, six assists, five steals, and two blocks. Senior 6-6 post-Jordan Embry had another solid night with 20 points, three blocks, and eight rebounds.
The littlest “J,” senior guard Jalen Wallace only scored 5, but he was everywhere with ten assists, eight rebounds, and three steals. Senior twin Jared Embry scored six points to go with six rebounds, four assists, and four blocks. Senior sixth man Clint Franklin scored the other two points.
The only downer for the evening were the 16 turnovers for Paris. When L-E tried to dial up the defensive heat in the second half with a three-quarters court press, they sped up the tempo which resulted in some easy baskets for Paris along with some sloppy play.
“We can’t have that,” said Steed, who now faces the task of preparing his team for a rematch against 4th-ranked Lincoln. “That’s way too many turnovers.”
Lincoln dealt Paris its last loss, 70-60, on Jan. 9 at P.C. Cobb Fieldhouse in Dallas. The Cats (33-2) have since reeled off 14 straight wins.
Paris hopes to enjoy a home crowd advantage as it tries to upset the Dallas power in a 6:00 p.m. Friday Region II semifinal at Texas A&M-Commerce Memorial Fieldhouse. The 8:00 p.m. semifinal will feature crosstown rival North Lamar against 9th-ranked Triple A Academy of Dallas.
The two Friday winners will meet at 12 noon on Saturday for the Region II championship and opportunity to advance to next week’s state tournament in San Antonio.
Despite the second-half turnovers, Paris pulled away to a 62-36 lead over the Leopards after three-quarters and enjoyed an 86-56 bulge when Steed pulled his starters with 2:07 left in the game. L-E finished with an 11-0 spurt and knocked down ten 3’s in the game to help keep the final margin a bit more respectable.
Check for Details on the Region II tournament as soon as they become available, but fans are urged to plan an early arrival to ensure seating.