AHS boys come on strong late to beat Canyon

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Amarillo High’s Brendan Hausen goes up for a shot between two Canyon defenders during a nondistrict game at the AHS Activity Center on Tuesday night. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]

It looked and felt an awful lot like a district opener between two teams fighting for a district championship Tuesday night when Amarillo High hosted Canyon, only between teams not even in the same classification, let alone the same district.

What the game lacked in meaning as far as being a playoff qualifier, it made up for as far as being a measuring stick. At the end of the evening, Amarillo High, ranked No. 4 in the state in Class 5A and Canyon, No. 16 in 4A, saw exactly where they stood to open 2022.

In front of a bipartisan crowd, the host Sandies found that gear in the second half which has been so demoralizing to opponents for the last three seasons, as they scored 17 straight points over a span late in the third quarter and early in the fourth to beat Canyon 51-41.

Both teams were coming off encouraging post-Christmas tournament appearances, as Amarillo High (17-6) split four games at the prestigious Arby’s Classic in eastern Tennessee, and the Eagles (14-5) won their own Tatum Tough Tournament last week. The streaky nature of the game reflected the potential hangover both teams were bound to experience with school starting again.

“It’s a late Christmas present but we needed that,” AHS coach Jason Pillion said. “(The Eagles) are an extremely well-coached team. They’re good basketball players who understand their roles. We did some things that kind of dug ourselves in a hole and they took advantage of those things.”

The first half was as evenly matched as it could be, with Amarillo High holding a narrow lead most of the half and Canyon only leading twice. But those leads came at the very beginning and the very end of the half, as Evan Hughes hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the half to give the Eagles a 20-19 lead.

Canyon dominated most of the third quarter, as the Eagles twice built their lead to 10 points, the last time at 35-25. Pillion pulled all five of his starters in the quarter, which seemed to wake up the Sandies.

“We kind of panicked in a stretch,” Pillion said. “This team hasn’t had a consistent stretch of panic this season. We settled down and realized this is possession basketball. To learn that lesson in this moment was very valuable.”

It helped the Sandies that they had four-year starter Brendan Hausen, who signed with Villanova last month. Hausen merely gave the latest example of how he can take over a game.

The Sandies took control of the game when Hausen started a 17-0 run by hitting a 3-pointer, his only trey of the night. He then assisted on another three by Cooper Pillion which got the ball further rolling to cut the lead to 35-31 at the end of the third quarter, and the Eagles seemed powerless to hold back the Sandies after that.

“If we weren’t such a mature team, tonight we might have taken a loss,” said Hausen, who along with Damonze Woods and Cade Hornecker is one of three four-year starters for the Sandies. “Having us guys that are veterans, I think that really helped us. The Tennessee game was great and we played some great teams out there, but this game was a reminder that when you come home you’re going to get everyone’s best shot out of the Panhandle.”

Early in the fourth quarter, the Sandies took the lead for good, and led 42-35 when the run ended. Canyon never got closer than five points after that.

Had it not been for that stretch, the Eagles might have gotten out of town with a victory which would have opened a lot of eyes among their District 4-4A rivals.

“We knew (the Sandies) were very capable (of taking over the game),” Canyon coach Travis Schulte said. “We had some turnovers during that stretch that kind of hurt us. We felt like we had some good looks during that stretch, we just didn’t knock them down. Every time we play these guys we’re going to get something out of it as long as we stick our nose in the middle of it and fight.”

Chris Bryant led the Eagles with 14 points, 12 of which came in the second half, including eight in the third quarter as the Eagles built their double digit lead. Kemper Jones added 10 for Canyon.

Cooper Pillion came off the bench to score 12 for Amarillo High, 10 of which came in the second half, as he played the entire fourth quarter.

Canyon 6 20 35 41

Amarillo High 9 19 31 51

C— Chris Bryant 14, Kemper Jones 12. AHS—Brendan Hausen 21, Cooper Pillion. Records: Canyon 14-5, Amarillo High 17-6.

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