The bad news is Class 6A’s No. 2 state-ranked Morton Ranch lost its season opener, 102-100, to Class 4A’s No. 2 state-ranked Yates on Saturday, Nov. 16, as a headlining game of RCS Sports’ prestigious 16-team Season Opener showcase at the Campbell Center.
ALDINE — The bad news is Class 6A’s No. 2 state-ranked Morton Ranch lost its season opener, 102-100, to Class 4A’s No. 2 state-ranked Yates on Saturday, Nov. 16, as a headlining game of RCS Sports’ prestigious 16-team Season Opener showcase at the Campbell Center.
The good news is the Mavericks took the 0-1 start hard. Very hard.
Coach Khris Turner was practically at a loss for words after the game. Players were disappointed and sullen. Words were few, voices were quiet.
All signs of a team that was clearly not satisfied with a tough loss to one of Houston’s premier programs. Signs that would be expected of coaches and players boasting state-championship aspirations, which the Mavericks do.
“We’ve got work to do,” Turner said. “We did a lot of good things, but the beauty of preseason is we get to work on things we need to fix so that we can get ready for the postseason. The game told us what we needed to work on.”
Thirty-three turnovers and poor execution dismayed Turner. Still, though, considering that the Mavericks were oh-so-close against a tradition-rich program loaded with elite talent, coming off a state-tournament appearance and returning four of those senior starters, wasn’t it, all in all, encouraging?
“Yes and no. Yates is a great program, great coach,” Turner said. “But you go back and forth, because we missed some buckets we should’ve made, but … you don’t know how to feel. We had our chances. I don’t know.”
Turnovers plagued Morton Ranch, which had 21 in the first half, as it trailed by as many as 20 points early and by 53-40 at halftime, and then three in the final minute of the fourth quarter that allowed Yates to rally from a brief 95-93 deficit and score nine points in the final 118 seconds.
The Mavericks had issues solving Yates’ hellacious fullcourt press. Twenty-three of those 33 turnovers were live-ball giveaways.
“Our biggest thing is execution,” Turner said. “We didn’t execute the way we practice and the way we plan. It bit us.”
But in the long run, Morton Ranch may be perfectly fine, thanks to a breakout game for senior forward Adrian Caldwell.
Senior stars L.J. Cryer (37 points, five assists, three steals, 14-for-22 shooting), Westley Sellers (21 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, four steals) and Eddie Lampkin (13 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals) clogged up the stat sheet, as expected. The Baylor-bound Cryer, who showed why he is arguably the most dynamic offensive talent in the city of Houston, was the best player on the floor, outplaying Yates senior guard Antwon Norman (34 points, three assists, three steals, 14-for-25 shooting).
Morton Ranch, though, may have found a fourth consistent playmaker in Caldwell. After Cryer accounted for 22 of the Mavericks’ 40 points in the first half, Caldwell was huge in the second half, taking some pressure off his point guard.
In all, the 6-foot-3 son of the former NBA player by the same name totaled 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting to go with nine rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes.
Caldwell, who averaged eight points and 5.1 rebounds last season in his first year at Morton Ranch, scored 15 points in the second half, even draining a pair of timely clutch 3s after hitting only 11 triples all last season.
“I think he can be huge for us as long as he stays locked in. When he’s focused, he’s unstoppable,” Turner said.
Sellers said Caldwell has all the physical tools to be a dominant player. Caldwell’s last step in his maturity, the veteran guard said, is mental.
Early in the first quarter, for instance, Caldwell picked up a quick foul and a turnover. Turner sat him down, “refocused him,” and the coach said Caldwell woke up after that.
“Throughout last year and this year, he can struggle with his focus, but we’ve done a better job of keeping him in line, making sure he’s doing the right thing, because he can be a big difference-maker,” Sellers said. “He’s an aggressive player, very physical. He hustles. We know he has our back. Stuff like that is big. He does everything we need him to do.”
Caldwell, who said he didn’t find his niche with the team until midway through last season, said he feels more confident. It showed against Yates, which had a physical and athletic front line that Caldwell more than held his own against.
“I feel very comfortable,” Caldwell said. “My chemistry with my teammates is so much better. I’ve found my part with the team, as far as rebounding and executing and doing whatever I needed to do.”
In all, Turner said he was pleased with players stepping up in a much-anticipated game.
Aside from Caldwell, newcomer Ethan Shiflet, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, played an active and aggressive 21 minutes, attacking at almost every opportunity and compiling five rebounds and four assists. Senior Ernest Ellis, a rarely-used backup player last year who started against Yates, had six points and three rebounds in 11 minutes.
Sellers liked what he saw.
“We’ve got guys who are willing to fight and willing to ride for this team to the very end,” Sellers said. “We’ve just got to keep on working. We have to prove ourselves every game. We fell short, but it’s something we can lean on.”
Ideally, the turnovers will dwindle and execution will only improve. And it was only game No. 1 in what the Mavericks hope is a long, long season.
“We have to manage the game better, once again, like we needed to do last year in the playoffs,” Cryer said. “This is the beginning of the season, so we’ll get better. We saw a lot of positives with the negatives, so I’m proud of us for fighting the way we did and coming back like we did.
“We can look at this, and at the end of the season we’ll see how much we improved.”