Once upon a time on a court a year or two ago, Morton Ranch never knew where to find consistent offense whenever star guard LJ Cryer was not playing.
Those days, however, now seem long distant. Saturday was proof of what is the new norm for the Mavericks.
With Cryer unavailable to play for the final 3-minutes, 17-seconds of an intensely competitive four-point game, Morton Ranch persevered against fellow state power Klein Forest, with Westley Sellers, Eddie Lampkin and others contributing big plays down the stretch for an 85-79 win that captured the Katy Classic gold division championship at the Merrell Center.
“We didn’t have LJ against Tompkins (a 53-40 loss on Nov. 17), and we kind of fell apart,” coach Khris Turner said. “We kind of imploded. It felt like we missed his presence.
“But it’s good to see them, in such a big game, step up and take over for him. It’s hard to replace LJ Cryer, but it’s good they were able to close it out.”
Cryer, averaging 27.7 points per game this season and named Classic tournament MVP, had 17 points, six assists and three rebounds before twisting his right ankle on a drive to the basket.
He tried to return to play on it, but lasted one 15-second defensive possession. Cryer suffered a first-degree right ankle sprain, a relatively non-serious injury.
“With LJ you never know, because he’ll play through anything,” Turner said. “It just looked like a twisted ankle, but with him, you never know … he played through a bad stomach bug when he was a freshman.”
Once Cryer left the game, Sellers, the Mavericks’ do-everything playmaker, led the charge to keep Klein Forest (10-2) at bay.
Sellers had four points and two big rebounds in the final three minutes, including an impressive hook shot not long after Cryer departed for good that pushed the Mavericks’ lead to six points.
“It was written,” said a smiling Sellers, who finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. “I knew I had to step up and take a role I normally don’t take. But I love it. I did it for my team. I’m experienced now, I have time here. As a leader, my big thing is making sure everyone is on the same page and that we’re on the right track.”
Lampkin had a huge dunk in the closing seconds to seal the win, going for 17 points and 13 rebounds. And senior reserves Isaiah Babalola (nine points) and D’erice Ulmer (15 points) had nice moments late during the fourth quarter.
“When LJ went down, we had to step up and finish,” Lampkin said. “We knew we had to do it for him. A win like this is big. We’re trying to get back to the top.”
Cryer is highly-regarded around the Houston area, emerging as, arguably, the city’s top prospect in the class of 2020. But Sellers and Lampkin, also rising stars in the class of 2020, are enjoying breakout campaigns.
Sellers, a 6-1 wing, had arguably his best game of the season on Saturday. Klein Forest had a significant rebounding edge early, jumping out to an 8-0 lead. So, Sellers, averaging 12.1 points, 6.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.5 steals this season, took it upon himself to crash the glass, taking some burden of Lampkin.
“People have always slept on him, so a game like this comes as no surprise to any of us,” Turner said. “The fact that we’re on such a big platform for him to showcase what he does … it’s good it happened now. It’s good people get to see what we see.”
The 6-foot-10-1/2, 291-pound Lampkin, averaging 13.3 points and 9.5 rebounds this season, showed off an array of skills.
If he wasn’t throwing down monstrous dunks, Lampkin was initiating offense from the high post, an evolving part of his game that he worked on diligently over the summer. And while he didn’t have to use his midrange jumper that he consistently shows off during pregame warmups, Lampkin showed that offense can be run through him, allowing Cryer to play off the ball and focus on scoring.
“He’s found his inner beast,” Sellers said of Lampkin. “He woke up. He’s ready to go.”
A prominent storyline for Morton Ranch this season has been the improved depth and consistency of Cryer’s supporting cast. Lampkin and Sellers are exhibits A and B, respectively.
Without them, the Mavericks can only go so far. With them, however, all doors are open.