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Byron Nelson can stick with the best of them ... the Bobcats have proven that all year long as they won 20 of 23 games entering Friday night’s Class 6A Region 1 quarterfinal showdown with Fort-Worth area perennial powerhouse North Crowley, the No. 10 ranked team in the state.
North Crowley was in the quarterfinal round for the 16th time in 21 seasons.
The Bobcats were making their second appearance and first since 2013.
North Crowley made a vicious comeback to force overtime, but in the end, it was a sophomore that led the Bobcats to an upset and historic win. Finley Bizjack scored 31 points, including 10 in the extra frame, to help Byron to a 72-70 overtime victory over the Panthers at Thomas Coliseum.
“I couldn’t be more excited to get to the next round. We pulled this one out as a team,” Bizjack said. “Really proud of us. We knew it was going to be tough, but we have a lot of chemistry and we work hard.”
The Bobcats (21-3), who made the regional final in 2013, advance to the regional semis against No. 4 Richardson (24-1), which knocked off undefeated South Grand Prairie, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Rock Hill HS in Frisco.
“So excited for our kids. North Crowley is a tough program, but we have some fight,” Byron coach Scott Curran said. “We made some shots in the first half and third quarter then we played tight and got into foul trouble which hurt a little. But it’s the playoffs. It happens. We just kept going and plugging away.”
North Crowley, which trailed by 16 points in the third quarter, ends the season 28-2.
“We’ve done that all year long, play hard and defend. Byron Nelson had a lot of things really go their way and our guys just stayed the course,” North Crowley coach Tommy Brakel said. “Once we stayed the course, we slowly worked our way back into it.”
Bizjack and senior Jesse Iweze hit back-to-back 3-pointers (Byron had 10 on the night) to extend the Bobcat lead to 43-27 midway through the third quarter, forcing a NC timeout.
Then the Panthers put it into another gear.
Malik Clinton and Ty’Rik Taylor drained threes and the Panthers got back-to-back 3-point plays to close the quarter. Remon Tuck was fouled while making a layup and while he missed the free-throw attempt, Bryan Thomas got the putback and was also fouled. NC went on a 10-4 run to cut it to 47-37.
The run continued with another 3-point play and NC trailed 49-45 with six minutes left in regulation.
A KD Davis layup cut it to two and NC took a 50-49 lead on Clinton’s fourth 3-pointer of the night. It was the Panthers’ first lead since 10-8 late in the opening period.
Byron led 55-51 with under two minutes to play, but Tuck hit a basket and two free throws to tie the game. NC had the final possession with 17 ticks left, but Clinton’s attempt at the rim was blocked by Bizjack at the buzzer.
Iweze and Taylor traded layups in overtime and Kaden Morgan and Bizjack hit three 3-pointers to give the Bobcats a 66-61 lead with 1:31 left on the clock. Bizjack made all four free-throw attempts down the stretch. Byron led 72-67 before a buzzer-beating three from NC made it a two-point edge.
“It’s a crazy experience. We beat North Crowley and going to the fourth round,” Iweze said. “We wanted this game. We finished strong. We always do, even if we’re down. No one puts their head down. We just keep battling.
“This is a crazy group and we love each other. We play together and always pushing each other to get better.”
The Bobcats scored the last four points to lead 12-10 at the end of the first quarter. Then the Bobcats outscored the Panthers 19-9 in the second to grab a 31-19 lead at intermission.
Morgan knocked down a pair of threes in the period and Bizjack banked in a shot before the buzzer.
“Finley is special. He’s an unbelievable player and kid,” Curran said. “The best thing about Finley is he’s a straight-up competitor and that’s the first thing I tell college coaches. He’s so skilled and gets the job done.”
Taylor and Clinton scored 18 points apiece for the Panthers. Clinton added seven rebounds and Taylor chipped in four steals. Marques Sales had 13 points and 10 points. Tuck contributed nine points.
“Not the results we wanted, but can’t blame them for giving all-out effort for what, 36 minutes,” Brakel said.
Bizjack added three rebounds and four assists for the Bobcats. Iweze (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Morgan (12 points, 10 rebounds) both chipped in double-doubles.
“We’ve been in every situation. They’re 21-3, only lost three games so they handle adversity. It’s a good group,” Curran said. “Kaden is one of the best defenders I’ve been around in 24 years. He gets after you. He’s a dog and never stops and Jesse has been unbelievable for us all year and gets better every game.
“I’ve known Brakel for a long time. He does a super job and to beat a program like that means a lot. It’s a special win. Rumor has it, Richardson has a couple good guards, we do too and we’re excited for the opportunity.”