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CEDAR HILL, Texas -- Duncanville (Texas) began the season as the No. 1 team in the ESPN RISE FAB 50. Then the Panthers endured six losses in a pre-district schedule that featured multiple marches to baggage claim meant to provide the toughness that facing the locals early and often couldn't match.
|Duncanville will get another shot at Cedar Hill in February.|
And Duncanville settled right in at home recently with three District 7-5A victories by an average of 23 points to improve its overall record to 15-6. But the Cedar Hill (Texas) Longhorns brought home some postcards in December, too, and welcomed the Panthers back to their little corner of southwest Dallas County by beating Duncanville 68-67 on Monday night.
The Longhorns are 20-2 overall, their only defeats coming in the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Cedar Hill is ranked No. 2 in Texas' Class 5A in this week's poll of state coaches, with Duncanville No. 5.
The Panthers lost three times to teams in the ESPN RISE FAB 50's top 10 (No. 2 Oak Hill, No. 6 San Antonio Madison and No. 9 South Atlanta) while playing in tournaments staged in Kentucky, Florida, Indiana and metropolitan Houston. And they still have a date in New Jersey in a few weeks to face No. 7 LeFlore (Mobile, Ala.).
Monday's defeat took place about a five-mile drive from their campus in front of a raucous standing-room only crowd. When Cedar Hill coach David Milson asked a school official before tip-off how many people were packed into the gym, the reply was, "Two."
"Two...?" Milson asked.
"Too many," he was told.
It was probably close to 2,200. They saw Cedar Hill lead throughout the second half, building the margin to 12 points after three periods and staving off a Duncanville charge in the final minute and a half. The Panthers had close-in shots in the final seconds from forward Shawn Williams and center Perry Jones that didn't fall.
"We didn't come ready to play," said Williams, a University of Texas signee who scored a game-high 25 points. Asked if that surprised him, Williams replied, "Not really. This year, we haven't come ready to play like we should numerous times."
Veteran Duncanville coach Phil McNeely was at a loss to explain why his team shot the ball too quickly from the floor and made only 6 of 14 free throws.
"If I knew what it was, I'd be Nostradamus," said McNeely, who has led the Panthers to three state titles."I thought the defense was OK. We didn't execute anything on offense. We didn't play well, and they did. Give them some credit."
Milson, who took the Longhorns to the 5A final in 2004, addressed the significance of Duncanville's frequent-flier schedule with his players before the game.
"I thought we could play with them, but I knew the exposure to big-time games that they've had this year," Milson said. "We've had a little if it; they've had a lot of it. I told our kids, 'We can do this. We can play with these guys. I know they're taller. They're longer. But we can do it if you guys put your minds to it.'"
Duncanville and Cedar Hill form one of the best district rivalries in Texas basketball, and their players face each other all year long. According to Cedar Hill senior forward Shawn Glover, the players maintain their school divisions even when playing on a blacktop in July.
"I couldn't imagine myself playing on the same team," said Glover, a Utah signee who led Cedar Hill with 16 points. Nothing personal, though: "I really have to play against them to improve myself all year round."
Cedar Hill and Duncanville figure to dominate their district, possibly pressed by Irving (featuring former Duncanville player James Thomas). They'll meet again on Feb. 6 up in Duncanville.
And maybe again in the Region I playoffs. Pack a bag.
Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at email@example.com.