No one had to tell the Hornets how important Tuesday’s game was.

Beat Klein and Huntsville stays in the thick of the District 14-5A race. Lose to the Bearkats and drop to 4-4 in district play, a sticky spot where it would take a terrific second half just to get back in the playoff race.

Huntsville’s scrappy varsity team responded to the challenge and ripped the Bearkats 63-48. The Hornets led from start to finish against a Klein squad that had won four of five before coming to Hornet Gym.

Led by sophomore guard Drae Murray, junior guard Michael Williams and freshman post Kirby Ennis, the Hornets (5-3 in 14-5A, 15-7 overall) took control of the game when they went on a 10-0 run to end the first period. Then after Klein (5-3, 12-12) cut the Hornets’ 12-point lead down to six midway through the third, Murray calmly distributed the ball to guys who could score, pushing the lead back to 12 late in the period.

Murray first found Broderick Purvis working inside for two. Then he hit Williams, who drained a 3-pointer from the right wing. Purvis added a fastbreak layup on a pass from Murray to put the Hornets on top 39-26.

Klein’s James Nguyen popped a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to cut the Hornets’ lead to nine, at 43-34. But with Murray running the show, Huntsville never panicked. The Hornets kept running their offense and continued to get good shots.

Williams caught a cross-court pass from Murray early in the final period, and with a flick of the wrist, swished a 3-pointer. That gave the Hornets a 48-37 advantage, and Klein never got any closer the rest of the way.

“The person who really makes us go, when he’s on top of his game, is Drae,” Hornets coach Doug Anderson said. “He’s our general. He keeps us under control and he did some nice things for us tonight.”

Murray finished the game with 12 points, three rebounds, five assists and three steals. Coming off the bench, Williams added 16 points. Ennis contributed nine points, seven rebounds and three steals, while the Hornets’ leading scorer, Rayshadrick Johnson, had eight boards and six points, all from the free-throw line.

Purvis and Ed Lenoir scored six points each, while Brice Williams and Melvin Gamble scored four points each.

Amir Rashad led the Bearkats with 19 points. Travis Barber and Stephen Hollek added nine points apiece.

“What’s incredible about tonight’s game is Shaq (Johnson) doesn’t score a field goal and we still win the basketball game,” Anderson said. “We had intensity tonight. We talked before the game about how well Klein shoots the basketball and how well they shoot the 3-pointer. We played great defense and shut them down tonight. On the offensive end, we executed.

“At the half, we had 19 rebounds, and 10 of those were offensive rebounds. We also held them to one shot most of their trips down the floor. That was big. And we also had only five turnovers at halftime.”

Aggressively, the Hornets attacked Klein and its 6-9 center Tim Price. Even after Price swatted six shots in the opening period, Huntsville kept going inside and challenging the Bearkats’ big man. Ennis scored on a tip-in, then hit a short jumper that gave the Hornets a 16-6 lead late in the first quarter.

Ennis used a quick release on another shot, this time over Price late in the second quarter to put Huntsville on top 25-16.

“He kept blocking shots, but I knew if I kept going up I would start hitting some shots,” Ennis said. “I wasn’t intimidated. You can’t come out on the court intimidated.”

Anderson said Ennis’ strong inside play gave the Hornets a boost Tuesday.

“That’s what I like about Kirby. He’s young, but he’s very mature for his age,” the coach said. “He doesn’t adjust his shot, he just keeps going up strong.”

The Hornets got another boost when Michael Williams heated up in the second half, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the final two periods.

“I’ve got to step up because I’m one of the only returning varsity players. I’ve got to be one of the leaders,” Williams said.

The Hornets host Conroe on Friday in another big district game. Conroe stunned Huntsville 48-46 in the 14-5A opener last month, but the Hornets got a little payback in the Tigers’ Christmas tournament, crushing Conroe 73-37.

Anderson said the Hornets just need to keep playing like they did Tuesday and everything will work out fine.

“We still have a chance to win the district title, and we definitely have a chance to get in the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve just got to take them one at a time starting with Conroe on Friday.”