Dobson boys basketball coach Rick McConnell remembers losing a pair of games on 3-pointers last season.
Nursing a two-point lead as time ticked down Monday afternoon, he implored his players to stick tight on the perimeter so the best Highland could do was tie.
The Hawks were indeed going for the win, but Jaron Hopkins jumped a passing lane for a steal with three seconds left as the Mustangs held on for a 53-51 victory in the MLK Basketball Classic at Wells Fargo Arena.
Highland was trying to get the ball to Austin Witherill off a screen, but Hopkins’ theft thwarted the Hawks’ chance at pulling off a major comeback.
Dobson led 44-32 heading into the fourth quarter but needed a bucket from Hopkins with 38 seconds remaining to break a tie and secure the win.
“We needed this one,” McConnell said.
Jake Toolson tied the game at 49 on a three-point play with 2:38 remaining. Kodi Justice put Dobson ahead with a pair of free throws, but Toolson again answered with a bucket.
The two teams traded turnovers before Hopkins scored an easy bucket on an in-bounds pass for the eventual game-winning hoop.
“We made it a game but unfortunately at the end we couldn’t execute,” Toolson said.
Hopkins finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and five steals. Justice added 11 points, six rebounds and six assists while Ryan Richardson had a team-high 13 points. All three are committed to or have scholarship offers from Division I colleges.
Dobson (15-8) showed off both its talent and inconsistency in this one. There were stretches in the second and third quarters in which the Mustangs played in sync and found several easy buckets. Then, individual play reared its ugly head, particularly down the stretch.
Dobson scored just nine points in the final quarter, including only five in the first six and a half minutes, as the lead evaporated.
The Mustangs were the preseason No. 1 but are still feeling out their roles after the offseason transfer additions of Hopkins and Richardson.
“Their offensive skills get negated a lot of the time because they get in bad spots and take tough shots,” McConnell said. “It’s been a long process, but we’re doing OK.”
Dobson was the No. 14 seed in Division I power points heading into the game as it aims to climb into the top-8 and get a first-round bye.
Highland was No. 17 entering the contest.
Toolson shot 10-of-15 from the field and finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of blocks.
Highland (15-7) has lost four of seven since winning the McClintock Holiday Shootout.