By Brian Paglia
Jay Livingston stood outside Morrow's gymnasium thinking about how much more a lopsided victory against an overwhelmed opponent taught him about his boys basketball team. The Mustangs had just defeated Therrell, a team with a history full of poor records, with an impressive offensive performance, but not the kind of defensive intensity Morrow built its glory upon.
Tony Dukes took care of the offense, scoring a career-high 30 points in Morrow's 85-70 victory over Therrell in the semifinals of the Arrowhead Classic Thanksgiving Tournament, sending the Mustangs into the championship game against Clarke Central.
Livingston already knew the cerebral Dukes had this potential within him, that Dukes had the array of skills to run around Therrell's zone defense looking for open spots for his jumpshot, or the athleticism to finish a breakaway with a resounding dunk, or that Duke could almost bring his team out of a lethargic first-half by himself and spark an 11-0 run just before halftime to begin the Panthers' unraveling.
"I'm telling you now, he's different," Livingston said. "His understanding of the game is deeper and wider. He's an athlete, now. ...He's very kind of low-key, but he's a deep thinker."
Dukes had seven points on that run to stretch a two-point lead into a 54-41 halftime edge.
"When you work hard, you've got to expect it sometimes," Dukes said. "I'm not trying to take it to the head or anything. Just trying to play, work hard everytime I play."
What Livingston didn't know shortly after the game was that Josh Davis, the team's closest thing to a post presence, had scored 19 points within the flow of Morrow's offense.
As Therrell slowly began to expand its defense to thwart Dukes, Davis took advantage of the extra space.
"I mean, Tony's impressive with 30," Livingston said. "But gimini cricket, to get 19 from Josh, that's a very good sign from an offensive standpoint."
The other member of what Livingston calls the "heart, mind and soul" of the Mustangs, Sean Stringfellow, scored 16 points. Terrico Stephens led Therrell with a game-high 32 points.
The Mustantgs struggled at both ends to start the game, which made Livingston think that his team's performance was a product of "just too much turkey." Morrow's largest lead in the first quarter was five points, and a 9-4 run by Therrell in the second quarter got the Panthers within two at 43-41.
"I don't know why we started flat," Livingston said. "Maybe it was just too much turkey. But those things kind of happen."
Morrow found its way offensively on that run just before halftime, and they found the level of defense Livingston expects late in the third quarter. The Mustangs' full-court pressure gave Therrell fits, producing five turnovers during an 11-4 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters.
"That's what we were hoping for," Livingston said. "We were hoping that (Therrell coach Harlen Graham) would use all his timeouts, cause once we trap'em, they didn't have an answer. When we do that, those are the kinds of moments that I'm trying to get our kids to love and have happen."