RICHARDSON — Jesuit’s halftime adjustments on Tuesday didn’t involve fiery speeches or strategic overhauls. Instead, the break provided an opportunity for some sports psychology.
After a first half in which the Rangers were out of rhythm, they found their comfort zone. Jesuit erased a double-digit deficit and surged past Rowlett 65-61 in a Class 6A Region II bi-district playoff game.
With their first playoff win since 2013, the Rangers (21-10) advance to meet The Woodlands in the area round at 7 p.m. Friday in College Station.
Jesuit opened the third quarter with a 19-2 run and used balanced scoring to hold off a late rally by Rowlett to win in the same gym where it lost in heartbreaking fashion to Mesquite in the opening round a year ago.
“We just chilled out,” said Jesuit head coach Chris Hill. “In the first half, the moment was beating us. The kids did a good job of calming down and changing their mentality.”
The resilient effort by Jesuit came on a night when its best offensive weapon was sputtering. The Rangers missed their first eight attempts from three-point range and were just 4-of-15 in the game. During the regular season, they averaged nine treys per game and hit more than 40 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.
“We battled. For us to win without shooting well is pretty rare,” Hill said. “[Rowlett] came out ready for us.”
As Jesuit struggled, Rowlett used its athleticism to sprint out to an 8-0 lead. The Eagles were in control by the time Mitch Prendergast connected on the first Jesuit 3-pointer more than halfway through the second quarter.
The Eagles (21-7), who finished third in District 9-6A during the regular season, opened up a 15-point advantage midway through the second quarter and led 33-21 at halftime.
That’s when the Rangers began their spirited comeback. Alan Garcia tied the game at 35 on a layup, and a minute later, Marcus Hill’s 3-pointer from the wing gave Jesuit a 40-35 lead.
Jesuit extended the lead to as many as 14 points early in the fourth quarter by showing its versatility. Despite a size disadvantage, the Rangers scored 32 points in the paint and held a 39-31 rebounding advantage. They also were 26-of-31 from the free-throw line.
Marcus Hill tallied a game-high 18 points and eight rebounds to lead Jesuit, while Prendergast added 17 points and Garcia contributed 14. Reid Hatzmann finished with 10 points — all in the second half — and four assists. The Rangers received critical contributions from two players off the bench, Jeff Grimes and Keagan Nwosu, who didn’t score but combined for 13 rebounds.
“I was just blown away by the way they did it,” Chris Hill said. “I’m really proud of our guys for getting this win.”
Joel Murray paced Rowlett with 17 points, including three 3-pointers. Alex Minter added 13 points and Braden Bell had 12. The Eagles shot just 35 percent from the floor after halftime.