THE COLONY, Texas -- Deciphering where The Colony has an advantage over Denton Ryan takes merely a glance at the two teams standing next to each other.
Three members of The Colony's front court -- Zach DeLay, Antoine Burrell and Damion McIntosh -- stand at least a head taller than any member of the Raiders, who got smaller over the offseason while their District 4-4A competitors got bigger.
Despite the disadvantage, Ryan held its own in the paint and built a healthy lead through three quarters Friday, but The Colony's big men broke out in the fourth en route to a 57-55 win in a physical, foul-filled game that featured 13 lead changes.
The win keeps The Colony (26-4, 7-1 in 4-4A) within striking distance of first-place Little Elm. Ryan (15-10, 5-3) still has a strong hold on a playoff spot, but its district title hopes take a hit with the loss.
"They came out really hot," DeLay said of Ryan. "We just had to play defense. That was the object. We got back in it and won."
With the game tied at 55, The Colony guard Kendall Jones sank two of three free throws with three seconds left in the game to give the Cougars the win. It was a thrilling conclusion to a back-and-forth final frame that began with Ryan nursing a five-point lead and both teams already in the bonus.
But the lead quickly vanished as the Cougar forwards found a rhythm, powering The Colony on a 10-0 run before Ryan point guard Trey Mohair, who finished with a game-high 27 points, drilled a 3-pointer from well behind the arc to tie the game at 46.
The game went on to be tied at 48 and 50, and a Burrell putback tied it at 55 with less than two minutes remaining.
Ryan looked like it might hold the ball for the rest of the game to take a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer, but an ugly pass gave The Colony the ball with 18 seconds left before Jones was fouled taking 3-pointer with three seconds left.
He sank the first and third attempts to give the Cougars a lead. By that point, Mohair had fouled out of the game, and the Raiders didn't get much of a shot off at the buzzer.
"We quit settling for outside jump shots and started going inside to our strengths," said The Colony head coach Cleve Ryan, who's father Billy is Denton Ryan's namesake. "Our big guys inside, that's where we score."
Burrell and Bobby White led The Colony with 14 points apiece.
LeDay and McIntosh, who transferred to The Colony from Dallas Skyline and Little Elm, respectively, both finished with 11 points. While their final stats aren't terribly impressive, their presence on the court is. Ryan had a hard time even getting a shot off on the paint at times, and they absorbed all of Ryan's attention defensively.
The Raiders did a good job of slowing them down early, particularly forward Sam Johnson, who played an extremely physical game in the paint, but eventually Ryan wore down.
"We just kept on attacking," DeLay said. "We kept attacking hard. That's what our coach tells us to do."