McALLEN — Tuesday night’s District 30-6A crosstown rivalry game between McAllen High and McAllen Memorial started as a scorer’s duel.
Bulldogs junior Quinllion Canada Jr. and Mustangs senior Christian Espinoza went toe-to-toe on the hardwood like a couple of prize fighters inside a boxing ring. Each playmaker took turns converting highlight reel buckets, igniting their respective side of the crowd inside McHi’s gymnasium.
But once the final buzzer sounded, it was Canada Jr. and his McHi teammates who had their hand raised in a 46-42 victory.
“City rivalry game, back and forth, intense, a lot of energy on both sides, it was a great battle,” McAllen High head coach Ryan Flores said. “Great basketball game to watch, great game to coach, probably a better game to play in. They were 3-0, we were 2-1. We needed this one at home, and expect another great one when we go over there.”
The loss was McAllen Memorial’s first in District 30-6A, but head coach Sammy Cortez was proud of the way his team fought.
“It was a great night for basketball for the city of McAllen. You have two teams here to represent McAllen — it’s always a good game,” Cortez said.
Espinoza finished with a game-high 24 points, but Canada Jr. came through for the Bulldogs with a complete stat line of 20 points, nine rebounds, five assists and one steal in the win.
“We were putting up buckets, but at the end of the day, who wants it more? We were scoring, but it is a team effort and our team just wanted it more,” Canada Jr. said. “Our mindset was just to stay focused on our goal, to play like they were just any other team, just come out intense and beat them.”
McAllen Memorial trimmed McHi’s lead to 38-37 during the fourth quarter, and while the game had been an offensive showcase between each team’s top scorer, it was a defensive stand that sparked the Bulldogs late.
Espinoza took the ball at the top of the key and saw an opening. The Memorial guard attacked the basket driving into the lane. Just before he could get the shot off, McHi’s Nathan Mangum stepped up to draw a charge that gave the Bulldogs the momentum needed to close it out.
“When we had lost the momentum there, I kept telling the guys we need a big play on defense, we need something to happen to get our energy level back up,” Flores said. “Taking that charge, sacrificing your body for the win, I can’t ask for anything more from that young man. He played big on both ends. When you sacrifice your body like that, you really want to win.”
Mangum finished the game with six points, four rebounds, four blocks, one assist and one steal.
“We did need it,” Mangum said about drawing the charge. “They needed one score, but I just saw him drive and I stepped in to draw the charge. It motivated our guys to keep on going and finish the game.”
The win is the Bulldogs’ third straight in 30-6A, which creates a three-way tie for the No. 2 spot in district at 3-1 with the Mustangs and McAllen Rowe Warriors.
“We’re playing together. We dropped that first game against a good Nikki Rowe team, but we’re finding a good rotation and the kids are buying into it,” Flores said.
Next up for the Bulldogs is a road contest against PSJA High set for 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs will be out to bounce back when they take the court against La Joya Juarez-Lincoln at 7:30 p.m. Friday at McAllen Memorial High School.
“We’re not done yet,” Cortez said. “Everybody already counted us out, they put us seventh in the district, so for us to be up there toward the top, it’s a credit to the kids for their hard work. We still have a bunch of games left.”