KINGSVILLE — McAllen Rowe came out of the halftime intermission trailing but energized. The Warriors were able to cut into Laredo United’s double-digit lead and make it a three-possession game.
Then, Carlos Puerto took control.
Laredo United’s junior small forward took a bullet of an outlet pass from the low post in his chest before gathering the ball, rising up and swishing an uncontested 3-pointer.
Then he did it again, again and again.
Puerto sank three of his team’s five 3-pointers on the night and scored a game-high 24 points as part of a scorching-hot second half to lead the Longhorns to a 54-34 Class 6A regional quarterfinal victory over the Warriors, thanks to air-tight interior defense and a big rebounding differential in a brisk 75-minute contest Tuesday night at H.M. King High School.
“They did a great job defensively and they didn’t let us get to the basket and they didn’t let us score much. Then we either got tired or had a lot of miscommunication and they got easy layups,” McAllen Rowe head coach Jose Yebra said. They hit those 3s when they got hot. We were in the game in the first half. It seemed like in the third quarter we were still there, but in the fourth quarter they hit some big shots. They’re a very good team too and they’re well coached.”
The Warriors struggled in the opening half to generate much offensive consistency and fluid ball movement in large part to the swarming Longhorns’ defense. United’s man-to-man, half-court defense repeatedly pushed and pressured Rowe’s primary ball handlers toward the sidelines, effectively denying them access to the paint.
The strategy not only limited the Warriors’ offensive firepower, but also spotted the Longhorns an enormous advantage on the glass in the early going. At the end of the first and second quarters, United had doubled up Rowe in the battle on the boards before ultimately outrebounding the Warriors 26-14 on the night.
“We did (pick up on that) and we talked about going back door cuts and attacking the baseline,” Yebra said. “We did it a couple of times, but we were standing around too much and we weren’t used to it. That’s what got us there.”
Rowe launched its comeback bid out of the gate in the third. The Warriors lined up defensively in a 1-2-2 full-court press and flustered the Longhorns initially, leading to several turnovers and mental miscues on United’s behalf.
Rowe trimmed the deficit to as few as nine on multiple occasions and appeared to be playing a much more physical, aggressive style.
“The message was that we were not going to quit,” Yebra said to his team at halftime. “I just told them if we’re going to get beat, we’re going to get beat trying and playing hard. I think our kids responded that way. They played hard in the third quarter, (United) just did a lot of good things in the fourth quarter and beat us there.”
At the outset of the fourth quarter, Rowe still only trailed by 10 points. However, that’s also when Puerto and United began to catch fire.
The Longhorns were able to figure out how to crack the Warriors’ full-court press, which led to several quick transition buckets to thwart any positive momentum Rowe had accrued. Furthermore, United was able to dissect Rowe’s half-court defense in the fourth with some very effective backdoor cuts that had the Warrior defenders lost at times.
“We didn’t switch like we needed to,” Yebra said. “Some kids were on the same page and some were not. Those are the mistakes we made, but they capitalized on them well. They’re used to doing that and they did a great job doing it.”
Puerto led the Longhorns with 24 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while shooting guard Frankie Viro and power forward Carlos Guzman combined to add 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. The team also dished out 18 assists collectively thanks to its brilliant ball movement.
Louie Yebra led the Warriors with 14 points on 82% shooting from inside the arc, but Rowe finished with a 0-for-14 shooting night from deep.
“This is a special group. We went through a lot this year, a lot of injuries and a lot of things that went on this year that a lot of people don’t know (about),” Yebra said. “But our kids kept believing and working hard. I’m very proud of them and the way they worked all year long.”