Fresh off of their win to end the season over 4A Booneville, the Paris Eagles had a few more days to work as a team with the freshmen added to the squad. They entered last week's district tournament needing a win at the opening game to extend the season.
They were seeded as the number five team and faced Lamar first, whom they lost to by eight to ring in the new year. As we all know, this was not the same Eagle squad; the freshman invasion has changed everything.
With the opening of tournament play, senior Jordan Moore would start the best week of his career as an Eagle. While most thought that Kris Graham would benefit from the addition of the underclassmen, Moore has seen the most change in the stat book. He has been getting passes and looks that he has not had all year, and Paris was never really threatened in the contest. Moore led all with 21 points, while Kris Graham added 17. Grayson Moore added 15 with freshman Anthony Potts in double figures with 10. It was a balanced attack, with 30 fourth-quarter points to end Lamar’s season, extending the Eagles to not only additional district play but a slot in the regional round.
Up next was top seed Jessieville, a team that many have ranked as one of the top in the state. One local coach of a team who plays up in 4A said they should be a favorite to win it all. Last Thursday night, Jessieville trailed most of the game. Paris was dominant on the boards and made transition baskets in a very physical game.
The physical nature would eventually take its toll. Though they led through three quarters, often by double-digits, the second half saw the Eagles get in foul trouble. That, combined with a low free-throw percentage, was devastating to their stellar effort. Jessieville hit their shots from the charity stripe and pulled out the win.
Paris would now be playing for position in the Regional Tournament, facing Two Rivers, another team that had previously defeated the Eagles by 12 points. Did we mention the difference the freshmen have made?
Starting two freshmen with a three-guard set, Paris has a speedy and frustrating defense. Offensively, there are two more shooters to cover, which means more passing lanes and more room for rebounds. The whole spacing on the floor has changed, and, as two Rivers found out, previous efforts do not necessarily mean current results. This game was close for most of the evening, but the depth of the Eagles was a difference maker, as they rotated in fresh legs and maintained the tempo that has produced success.
This night, Paris hit their free throws and sealed the game late, playing possession basketball, and though the 61-59 final feels like a buzzer beater, Two Rivers hit a late shot to make the game appear closer than it was for the last two minutes of play.
Paris learned they can play in clutch time, and the young guys are meshing with the veterans players. Though Kris Graham had 23 points, Garrett Moore was a difference maker on both ends, finding much more room to use his athleticism on the glass and convert turnovers into points.
Paris will now play Elkins in the Regional Tournament at Two Rivers on Thursday night. If Paris can continue the development of the younger players, this game should be extremely competitive as they look for a birth in the state tournament.