From the first alley-oop that portended a 57-point blowout loss last year, Lambert basketball resolved to endure this season with a different mindset.
When the Longhorns reached the state playoffs a season ago, they were handed commemorative T-shirts and other memorabilia. It was historic, after all, the first postseason trip in program history.
But the feeling of accomplishment dissipated in that humbling first-round loss to eventual state champion Norcross.
“After last season, we learned to never be satisfied,” Longhorns senior center Trevor Shipes said.
So the Longhorns weren’t content with a 65-51 victory against Chattahoochee on Tuesday in a Region 6-AAAAAA game at home.
The win extended Lambert’s winning streak to five games, kept the Longhorns (13-3) in first place in the region at 7-0 and gave them another win over one of its toughest region contenders to take a stronger hold of the region standings. Lambert took the best from Chattahoochee junior Marcus Sheffield, one of the top 100 prospects in the Class of 2015 who finished with 30 points, and survived.
For this team, this year, it’s not enough.
“We’re never satisfied,” sophomore guard Tanner Hall said. “We just want to keep practicing hard, keep pushing. Beat everybody as best we can.”
“We’re not worried about where we stand right now,” Longhorns coach Scott Bracco said. “It’s still early, halfway through the season. We’re just trying to improve every day and grow and build team chemistry.”
Perhaps the Cougars (6-11, 3-4) had the best player on the court in Sheffield, The 6-foot-5 small forward is the No. 74 junior prospect in the country, according to Rivals, with offers from Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and others. Lambert put an array of defenders on Sheffield and double-teamed him when he got the ball, but his athletic drives and pull-up jumpers caused fits for the Longhorns.
By the end of the first quarter he had 12 points. When Shipes made a lay-up to give Lambert its first double-digit lead at 24-14 in the second quarter, Sheffield brought Chattahoochee back, scoring six points during a Cougars’ 13-4 run to end the half that cut Lambert’s lead to 28-27.
Brett Bartlett hit a 3 to give Chattahoochee its first lead, 30-28, in the third quarter, and when Shipes tied the game with a baseline drive Sheffield scored the Cougars’ next six points to give them a 36-32 lead.
“He’s the best player we’ve played this year,” Bracco said. “I don’t know what the best game plan to use against him is. Whatever we did didn’t work because he had  points. So we have to put together another game plan for the next time we play them.”
Lambert needed to be the better team. Bracco had said the Longhorns’ defining attribute this season had been its depth, and it was put to the test with starters Hall and Joe Bates in foul trouble in the first half. Bates went to the bench with his third foul with 3:45 left in the third quarter and Lambert down 36-34.
The Longhorns responded with a 16-2 run into the fourth quarter to take control of the game, and contributions came from everywhere. Shipes and Grant Lancaster made transitions lay-up. Hall scored five of his 10 points on a free throw, short floater and driving lay-up. Patrick Noble, who entered for Bates, knocked down a 3 for part of his nine second-half points. Logan Bush made a tough shot in the post.
Suddenly, Lambert led 48-38 and never looked back.
“We had other guys step up,” Bracco said. “They played well. Patrick Noble played phenomenal stepping in for Joe tonight.”
Shipes led Lambert with 14 points, while Jake Morris scored 12 points, Bates had 11 points and Hall added 10.
“I think for a while we kind of let up and got comfy,” Shipes said. “As soon as we turned it on, kind of pushed a little harder and made sure we were there on help defense, we kind of got into a groove and took the game over.”