The Westwood Panthers were picked as the TABC's District 21-3A favorite and came into the district opener against Crockett boasting a No. 15 state ranking.
But the Bulldogs weren't the least bit impressed or intimidated as they used a strong fourth quarter effort to upend the Panthers 61-50 on Friday, Dec. 18 at The Hop.
The win was a big confidence booster for the Bulldogs, who are rebuilding after losing six seniors from last season's district championship squad.
The TABC picks New Waverly to finish No. 2 in the district, Buffalo No. 3 and Leon No. 4, so the Bulldogs are hoping to prove the experts wrong.
A close first quarter ended with Westwood nudging ahead 11-9 on a bucket at the buzzer.
Westwood led by as many as six in the second quarter, but hit a late bucket to carry a 26-22 lead into halftime.
In the third quarter Rasheed Epps drained back-to-back treys to give the Bulldogs a five-point lead with 2:00 left.
Westwood closed out the third with two unanswered buckets in the final five seconds to cut the Bulldogs' lead to a point, 38-37.
The fourth quarter was close until the final two minutes. Holding a 50-48 lead, the Bulldogs outscored the Panthers 11 to 2 in the final 1:24. Damarkus Griffin hit two buckets and the Bulldogs picked up seven more points at the charity stripe to seal the victory.
"We challenged the guys this week to come out and fight. Just play hard on both ends of the court, and they did that," said Bulldog Head Coach Kadrian Bryant. "My bench kept us in it. Damarkus (Griffin) came off the bench with a huge lift. I told the guys if we'd get out and run I felt like we could get some easy baskets."
Epps paced the Bulldogs with 20 points, including three treys and 5-of-8 free throw shooting.
Griffin came off the bench to contribute 15 points, all in the last three quarters. Xavion Dixon and Deandre Anderson scored 6 apiece, Jurmond Wooten nailed 5 of 6 free throws in the fourth quarter for his five points, Lucky Daniels scored 4, Octavius Anderson had a 3-pointer, and Leyth Jaber had 2.
Case Robinson suffered a high ankle sprain in the second quarter, but is expected to return in a few weeks.
Westwood had three scorers in double figures. Jaren Turner led with 16, D.J. Hicks with 12 and Dejuan Hickerson with 11.
The Bulldogs only made 11 of 25 free throws while Westwood hit 9 of 16 at the line.
"You have to give credit to Westwood. They fought and gave us a good game. Westwood brought a lot of kids back, so they have a lot of experience. We've been up and down, so I warned the guys it was going to be a fight and we had to match their intensity. We did that, and we came out with the win," said Bryant.
"We had good effort on the glass. Ive been telling Xavion (Dixon) if he uses his size and imposes his will on the game it'll make us better. Rasheed (Epps) stepped up and played like I knew he could and we came out with the win," said Bryant.
"As a team we stepped up on the defensive side. We talked and we communicated, but we didn't come up with a couple of loose balls just because of not blocking out. We'll go back to the drawing board and talk about blocking out and key assignments closing out."
Coach Bryant summed up, "I'm really proud of our kids and the effort they brought tonight. It was amazing and if we continue to build on that we're going to be all right."
Before resuming district play Jan. 5 at home against New Waverly, the Bulldogs will compete in the Houston County Holiday Tournament Dec. 28-30.