By Jason Pugh
A year ago, Red River probably would have lost this kind of game.
Bulldogs standout Cordarius Johnson did not score until the 1:10 mark of the second quarter and a pesky Green Oaks team kept hanging around.
In the end, however, it was Red River's role players who sparked the Bulldogs to a 63-56 victory over Green Oaks in the first round of the Thanksgiving Classic at Booker T. Washington on Monday.
"That's the point I was stressing to them," Red River coach Keith Johnson said. "We're becoming more of a complete team. We still know it's C.J.'s team, but we see now, even with him not having a good game, we can stay in it and win."
Cordarius Johnson finished with 12 points, but it was a pair timely tip-ins from Jacob Caldwell that stoked a game-changing 12-4 run to start the fourth quarter.
Caldwell's putback at the 4:15 mark gave the Bulldogs a four-point lead and he added another to stretch the lead to eight with less than 2 minutes to play.
"It was just sweet," Caldwell. "They were standing straight up and I just got low and just jumped and tipped it in."
Caldwell had a third tip-in denied when he was called for a lane violation on a Cordarius Johnson free-throw attempt with 21.4 seconds to play.
"I had told C.J. to miss so I could tip it back in, but he went ahead and made it," Caldwell said.
The Bulldogs needed help from their bench to keep Green Oaks (4-2) from turning the game into a runaway in the third quarter.
Buoyed by five points from Germario Ester, the Giants turned a 33-all halftime tie into a 43-34 lead with 5:40 to play in the third.
After the teams traded baskets, Red River ripped of an 11-2 run over the next 1:35 to tie the game at 47. The two biggest blows in that stretch were back-to-back 3-pointers from reserves Quincy Bell and Brandon Housley.
"They know when we put them in the game, especially Housley, he's coming in to shoot the ball," Keith Johnson said. "I think everyone is starting to understand their role. As long as we keep growing, we'll be all right."
Red River's game-changing runs were a bit of payback for the scrappy Giants.
As Cordarius Johnson began to heat up in the final 70 seconds of the first half, scoring six points, Red River threatened to take the momentum into halftime.
However, Adgie Johnson's 3-pointer at the buzzer tied things at the break — a pattern that held for much of the game. The score was tied after the first, second and third quarters. Adgie Johnson led the Giants with 17 points while Cordarius Smith paced Red River with 15.
Once the Bulldogs took the lead in the fourth, however, they were content to spread the floor, working more than a minute off the clock in one possession.
"We were playing a little lax on offense," Green Oaks coach Joseph Anderson said. "We let them run the time on defense. Simple little mistakes that will be corrected soon. We didn't get up there and make them start the count. That's our bad."
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