When Vandegrift and Leander met in the first round of district play earlier this season, the game came down to the final possession.
Tuesday night was quite the opposite.
The Vipers scored 19 points in the first quarter and never gave up the lead, shutting down any momentum the Lions’ shooters tried to build on and pulling away for a 66-50 win at home Tuesday night.
“That was the best defensive game we’ve played in a long time,” Vandegrift head coach Cliff Ellis said. “That was our focus (during practice on Monday). We really buckled down and executed our defensive gameplan. And of course, we rebounded well.”
The win moves Vandegrift one and a half games ahead of Leander with just over two weeks left in the regular season. The Lions are tied with Vista Ridge at 3-5 in district play, but hold the tiebreaker thanks to two district wins against the Rangers.
“We didn’t stick to our game plan and took some ill-advised shots,” Leander head coach Clint Bradley said. “We got off to a bad start and just couldn’t recover. Hopefully, we can come out on Friday and get a win and we’ll be in good shape.”
Hunter Stevens scored 17 points for Leander and Ruben Luna added 12 points with a quartet of 3-pointers in the second half. Landon Sisson scored five points, while Logan Clark, Dalton Flowers and Kyce Wilson each had four points.
Greg Brown scored a game-high 23 points with seniors Justin Florence and Justin Moore adding 14 and 10 points, respectively.
In total, nine of the 14 players on the roster were on the scoresheet and nearly the entire team made an appearance in the game.
“Greg makes everybody around him better and everybody else has a little higher confidence,” Ellis said. “That’s when things really start to work and we move the basketball. It’s really fun to watch.”
Both teams put on a shooting clinic in the first quarter as they combined for five 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the game to help Vandegrift rush out to a 16-8 lead. The furious pace slowed down in the final few minutes of the period.
Leander had some sloppy turnovers in the second quarter. The Lions’ mistakes coupled with a dominant 8-point quarter from Brown and five points from senior Billy Hatch helped the Vipers take a 34-21 halftime lead.
There were spurts during the second half when Leander tried to get back into the game and Stevens scored eight points in the third quarter and Vandegrift didn’t extend its lead.
But a 20-point 4th quarter was enough for the Vipers to hold on and take control of third place in the district with two weeks left in the regular season.
“We just need to be a little more consistent,” Bradley said. “We talk that if you want to be a playoff team, that’s what they do. That’s what we’re still trying to build on. We show flashes of it.”
Leander hosts Hays on Friday night before back-to-back games against Lake Travis and Westlake. The Lions close out the regular season at Lehman on Feb. 13.
Vandegrift travels to face Vista Ridge Friday night and has a bye next Tuesday. The Vipers host Hays on Feb 9 and ends the regular season at Lake Travis on Feb. 13.
“We’re still not out of the woods yet, we haven’t clinched anything yet,” Ellis said. “Our focus is a lot on our opponent at this point. We focused on ourselves so much earlier in the season. We’re getting ready for playoff basketball.”