FORT WALTON BEACH — The Choctaw boys basketball team kicked off its 2019-20 season in thrilling fashion Monday night, outlasting Paxton 62-61 at the TeePee in Fort Walton Beach.
Trailing 14-12 after one quarter, the Indians (1-0 overall) poured in 22 points during the second quarter to take a 34-28 lead into the locker room at halftime. Coach Jeff Bradley’s Bobcats (0-1) managed to cut the deficit down to 49-48 by the end of the third quarter, but neither squad was able to pull too far away from the other in the game’s final frame.
Choctaw senior guard C.J. Matthews led all scorers with 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including three 3-pointers, and chipped in four boards, three assists, one steal and one block.
The Indians also got 10 points and four rebounds from junior guard Amarion Pettis on an efficient 4-of-6 clip, while junior guard Jamil Bowles overcame a tough shooting night to post nine points, five rebounds, five assists and a steal.
Coming off a 23-5 season and just two years removed from a trip to the 7A state championship game, coach Andy Thigpen’s crew, now in 5A after the FHSAA restructured, struggled at the free-throw line Monday, converting just 55% of its 20 attempts, but was otherwise solid from the field. Choctaw hit on 43% of its field goals — benefitting from 16 assists and seven steals — and 33% of its 3-point attempts.
Meanwhile, the 1A Bobcats are coming off a Final Four run of their own earlier this year, falling to Madison County 63-51 in March, and looked every bit the part while matching up with a bigger and deeper Choctaw team.
Senior forward Zach Williams led four Paxton players in double figures with his 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting, while seniors Alonzo Wright and Connor Varnum and sophomore Latrell Sanders each chipped in 10 points.
As a team, the Bobcats went 12-of-14 from the free-throw stripe, while hitting on 42% of their field goals and 34% of their 3-pointers.
Paxton returns to action against Northview at 6:15 p.m. on Dec. 3 in Bratt. Likewise, the Indians are off until they face Booker T. Washington at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 3 in the TeePee.
The Seahawks fell victim to the back-to-back on Friday night.
Just 24 hours removed from besting county rival Freeport 60-52, coach Kevin Craig and Co. lost to Paxton 57-46 in the Hawks’ nest.
Crystal King-Williamson led South Walton (1-2 overall) with 22 points, Genevieve Banda had nine points and Olivia McLaughlin had eight.
King-Williamson also had 17 points in the win against Freeport, as did Ava Wehrlin.
Craig chalked the loss up to Paxton’s (3-0) experience, as well as his own team’s learning curve. The Seahawks have a handful of injured players, including two who are out for the season, leaving a lot of playing time for sophomores.
“(The Bobcats) have really good size and a lot of experience,” Craig said. “They shoot the ball very well. We actually played them pretty well till we ran out of gas, tied at 25 at halftime.
“But this is a really good group of sophomore’s that are doing the majority of the playing right now will get better as the year goes on really excited about this team.”