BOYS BASKETBALL: Titans win first ticket to UIL state playoffs after 67-58 win over Knights

Published 3:49 pm Saturday, March 3, 2018

HOUSTON — Quite literally, the Port Arthur Memorial boys basketball players waited their entire lives to go to a state tournament.

Some, if not all, of the Memorial seniors were just born when a Port Arthur team last played in Texas’ final four. Eighteen years after Thomas Jefferson reached the semifinals, Memorial is going to the Alamodome after beating Fort Bend Elkins 67-58 Saturday in the UIL 5A Region III championship game.

“I just feel great,” said Thailan Wesley, one of nine senior Titans. “We’ve just been working so hard to get this far, and we’re just not done yet. We’ve got a long way to go.”

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Actually, just two more wins for Port Arthur’s first state championship since Lincoln won it all in 4A in 1995.

The Titans (32-5), winners of 24 straight, refused to let this victory slip away after building an 18-point lead early in the third quarter. Elkins (29-12) forced Memorial into some uncharacteristic turnovers as the game wore on and pulled to within 57-54 on a Tim Denton three-point basket with 1:46 to go.

Memorial went into attack mode and expanded the lead on a Jomard Valsin drive 13 seconds later. The Titans shot 8 for 12 in the final 72 seconds to put away the Knights, who didn’t make another field goal until a Denton three with 10 seconds to go.

Shortly after the final horn, Kenneth Coleman, a 1978 Lincoln graduate who played under four-time state championship coach James Gamble, hyped up the well-traveling Titan faithful in celebration, having just achieved a longtime goal in a coaching career that just began 14 years ago.

“I was working in the refinery, and again, God put it in my heart,” Coleman said. “I changed careers, and this is part of it. This is a step along the way, and I’m enjoying the ride.”

Wesley finished with 25 points, including four three-point baskets. He has averaged 23.2 points per game in the 5A playoffs.

“It’s just a lot” to put in perspective the meaning of Memorial’s playoff run, Wesley said. “There have been a lot of state championships in Port Arthur, and this would feel great to bring one back. It’s just in our bloodline playing for Port Arthur.”

But Jamyus Jones, who finished with 19 points, gave the Titans a great start knocking down their first two baskets, both treys. He had three 3-balls.

“You’ve got to start out strong every game,” Jones said. “You have to finish strong, too.”

The Missouri City-based Knights responded after falling behind 12-2 just 2:19 into the game and went on a 10-0 tear. It was just the first of two ties for the Knights, who never led.

Wesley scored 11 points during a 13-2 Titans rally, and Valsin hit a bank shot just before the first-half buzzer to put Memorial ahead 41-29. Nate Clover keyed a quick third-quarter start for Memorial with a two-hand jam, forcing Elkins to take timeout with a 47-29 deficit.

Vernon Harrell made six of his 17 points during an 11-0 Knights rally as Memorial struggled to maintain its offensive composure. With 5:47 to go in the game, a Heath Jackson trey closed to gap to 52-49, and Memorial faced one of its closest battles during its winning streak. (Its closest victory is 64-57 over Alvin Shadow Creek in the area round.

“When coach called timeout, he just told us to keep playing hard, go out there and give some more effort,” Wesley said.

The UIL boys semifinals will be held Thursday through next Saturday at the Alamodome, with pairings in each classification to be released tomorrow.

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews



• Region I: Justin Northwest 60, Amarillo 56

• Region II: Midlothian 48, Lancaster 45

• Region III: PA Memorial 67, Fort Bend Elkins 58

• Region IV: San Antonio Alamo Heights 70, Laredo Nixon 33

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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