Junction City to take on Mansfield in state tournament

When Junction City takes the court tonight for their first-round clash in the state tournament, it will be a case of history repeating itself.

Two years ago, Junction City had home-court advantage as the host of the state tournament.

Now if the Dragons want to advance beyond the first round, they must defeat the hosts.

Junction City (19-8), the No. 3 seed from the South, faces Mansfield (20-11), the No. 2 seed from the West and host of the 2A State Tournament tonight at 5:30 p.m. in the opening round.

The Dragons enter the state tournament after winning two of their three games in the regional tournament, including a 53-45 overtime win over Woodlawn in Saturday’s third-place game.

The Tigers had their five-game winning streak snapped in the regional final by Lavaca.

Mansfield has posted a 12-4 record at home this season, but their lone blemish in 2024 so far was a 64-46 setback at the hands of Mountainburg earlier this month.

“We all know how it goes when you’re playing on the road at times,” Junction City coach Xairius Larry said. “But with this one being a really big game, we are going to have to be almost perfect. Very disciplined.”

Larry had a chance to scout the Tigers and was impressed with what he saw.

“From watching their last game, they like to play man defense,” Larry said. “It’s very packline and they're good in it. Offensively, they run a lot of pick and roll, backscreens, the type of basketball I like to see.”

Larry said the Tigers’ lineup consists almost entirely of guards.

“He plays pretty much five guards,” Larry said. “Samuel Burton (No. 3), in my opinion is their best athlete. Zachary Hayslip (No. 10) and Daniel Burton (No. 0) can shoot it, so we’re going to try to keep them under control.”

With the Tigers going primarily with guards, Larry said the Dragons could have an advantage with their size in the frontcourt.

“We'll be fine on the perimeter,” Larry said. “We have some talented and shifty guard play. With them not having much size, we may be able to get it inside more than usual.” 

The Dragons qualified for the state tournament with a 61-51 win over Dierks before seeing a six-point lead late in the fourth quarter dissipate in an overtime loss to Murfreesboro in the semifinals.

However, the Dragons showed plenty of resolve in overcoming an early deficit in overtime to top conference rival Woodlawn on Saturday.

“Honestly, I think we played pretty well in the regional tournament,” Larry said. “Even the one we let slip away to get to the championship game. It taught us a lesson. The following game against Woodlawn showed us that we can’t quit or give up on ourselves. We responded well collectively.”

For the Dragons to advance, Larry said his team must play their brand of basketball.

“Play Dragon basketball,” Larry said. “We know it’s not going to be easy, but no matter how hard it gets, find a way.” 

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