AUSTIN, Texas – Dallas Kimball coach Royce Johnson’s nerves could not have been any higher on the bus ride from the team hotel to the Erwin Center on Thursday.
The defending state champions could not catch a light on the six-block trip to the host stadium of the boys state tournament, putting the Knights in a time crunch before their state semifinal game against San Antonio Alamo Heights (34-3).
Kimball (33-5) had around 11 minutes to warm up and shoot before the beginning of the game, Johnson said.
Kimball’s natural talent came through as the Knights beat Alamo Heights, 47-43, to advance to the 4A state final.
“The kids did a great job bailing me out,” Johnson said. “I was hoping we could just make a couple of shots because we needed them.”
It took the majority of the first quarter for the Kimball shooters to find their touch, including standout scorer Keith Frazier, who began the game 2-for-6 from 3-point range.
Defense kept Kimball in the lead through a tough first half shooting, forcing Alamo Heights to scramble down the court against a half-court zone trap. Alamo Heights coach Andrew Brewer said his team struggled to make shots because Kimball closed out more quickly than any team it had faced this season.
“My main focus was to work hard on defense and just let the offense come,” Frazier said.
The offense would find traction in the second quarter, thanks to turnovers forced by the Kimball defense, which accounted for seven points off turnovers, six on the fast break.
Alamo Heights never said die, including senior guard Dylan Lieck who drained two 3-pointers late in the fourth, bringing his team as close as three points to the lead. Johnson said he told his team to watch out for Lieck.
“That was a guy we talked about this morning,” Johnson said. “You could see the determination on his face. His determination in the second half willed him to make a couple of shots because he didn’t want to go home.”
Kimball senior and last year’s 4A championship game MVP Shannon Lilly will have the opportunity to play in the final again. While his eight points were overshadowed by Frazier’s 22, the leadership role he has assumed this season and this state tournament has made this year a completely different experience.
“Last year, I played most of the time shooting guard. Now that I can be a leader that I play point guard, I can keep everybody focused on the court and just be a leader.”
Lilly and Kimball play 3:30 Saturday against the winner of the semifinal between Denton Ryan and storied Houston Yates.
If Yates prevails, Saturday will feature a rematch of the 2009 state finals, where Yates took the title over Kimball, 94-78.
“We’re going to be ready on Saturday and I think it’s going to be good for the fans -- whether it’s Ryan or Yates,” Johnson said.