Thibodaux starts strong, beats Ouachita in playoffs
Wed. March 05, 2014 at 11:23 a.m. | By Chris Singleton/Staff Writer
Thibodaux High School's Natron Nora (24) drives to the basket past Cody Hittle (23) and Cephus Gix (14) of Ouachita Parish on Tuesday night in Thibodaux. (Photo by Keyon Jeff/Correspondent)
In the days leading up to Thibodaux High’s Class 5A second-round playoff game against Ouachita, Tigers coach Tony Clark preached to his players the importance of getting off to a fast-start.
Clark mentioned it again moments before Tuesday’s playoff game held on Mardi Gras night in front of a packed and loud crowd in Thibodaux’s gym.
“I told our team that we’ve got to have a ‘Game 7 mentality,’” Clark said. “Every game is an elimination game in the playoffs. We’ve got to play every game like it’s our last.”
The Tigers listened. They scored 21 points and opened up a 10-point lead in the first quarter, and their defense protected the lead the rest of the way in a 74-64 victory over Ouachita.
With the win, the No. 19th-seeded Thibodaux (22-8 overall) advances to the Class 5A quarterfinals, where it will play the winner of today’s No. 6 Dutchtown at No. 22 Hammond game. Thibodaux will either host Hammond or travel to Dutchtown in the quarterfinals later this week.
In a win over No. 30 Ouachita, Thibodaux’s Natron Nora led the way with 25 points. He scored 10 of those points in the fourth quarter, which protected a second-half lead for the Tigers.
Other leaders for Thibodaux were DeVaughn Brown (13 points), Elray Duncan (10 points), Leon Gordon (eight points) and Chris Bryant (six points).
When others didn’t believe they would make a playoff run, Nora said the Tigers stuck together and kept the faith. Now they are one win away from advancing to the Boys Top 28 tournament in Lake Charles next week.
“We’ve always knew we were going to get here,” Nora said. “We knew what we wanted to do (as a team). It means a lot. Nobody expected us to get this far. It’s very important that we just keep this thing going. We don’t care who we play in the (quarters).”
Thibodaux only trailed once in the first quarter, but it went on a 17-6 run to go up 21-11 at the end of the first quarter.
Clark said it felt good to see his team come out and play with high intensity early. The Tigers forced six of Ouachita’s 18 team turnovers in the first quarter, and they scored most of their points on fastbreak opportunities.
“They came out and played well,” Clark said. “A lot of credit goes to our defense. We put pressure on them. We didn’t allow easy shots. Our offensive execution was good. We got the ball inside and got some points. We could’ve rebounded a little better, but overall we played a good game.”
Ouachita, a No. 30 seed that upset No. 3 Byrd in the first-round last week, had a little more success against Thibodaux’s defense in the second quarter.
Kenny Ross, who led the Lions with 17 points, scored on a three-point play and later added an offensive putback to cut Thibodaux’s lead to 24-20 with 3:44 left in the second quarter.
But Nora scored two layups on fastbreak plays and Brown made a layup off a pass from Amik Robertson to extend the Tigers lead to 30-22 with 2:31 remaining.
Ouachita’s Cephus Gix (14 points) hit a jumper that cut Thibodaux’s lead to six (32-26) with 1:06 left, but Nora got a steal and hit 1-of-2 free throws to put the Tigers on top 33-26 at halftime.
Ouachita coach Casey Jones said it was tough having to play from behind for most of the game.
“I feel like the first quarter set the tone,” Jones said. “We didn’t have the focus we normally have for whatever reason. Sometimes you deal with that when you have a young team. I didn’t see that look in our eyes. Thibodaux took advantage of that in the first quarter and got off to a good start.”
In the third quarter, Thibodaux continued to score easy baskets in transition, most of which came off Ouachita turnovers. After getting a steal and layup from DeAndre Pharagood, Gordon knocked down two separate 3-point shots that extended the Tigers lead to 48-37 with 1:50 left in the third quarter.
Ouachita’s D’Majio Richard scored two straight lay-ups off two Tiger turnovers to make it a 10-point game, but Nora converted a key three-point play in the final seconds to make it 54-41 Thibodaux after the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Ouachita (19-12) made it a 10-point game on several occasions, but it couldn’t get any closer. The Tigers made 12-of-19 free throw attempts (26-of-36 total) in the final period to seal the win over the Lions (8-of-16 free throws).
Jones said Ouachita kept fighting defensively, but they couldn’t cut the lead late. The Lions also got 10 points from Quaterrius Williams and nine points from Richard.
“They got in a rhythm, and we never got in a rhythm,” Jones said. “Sometimes when you’re not scoring, it’s easier to get in rhythm when you get to the free-throw line. I’m not saying much, but when one team shoots 16 free throws and another shoots 36, that’s tough to overcome some times.”
Brown, who scored most of his points in the paint on second-chance opportunities, said the Tigers kept their composure late and fed off the energy from their home crowd.
“Our whole team is like a band of brothers,” Brown said. “I just want to give a shout out to all our fans here in Thibodaux and our student section. They are loud. They get into the other team heads just like we do. It’s hard to win in ‘The Jungle.’”
And Clark said he is hoping the Tigers can continue to play with a “Game 7 mentality” in the rest of their playoff games.
“We’re feeling good. I think we’ve been playing well throughout this stretch in the last couple of weeks,” Clark said. “The kids are confident right now. That’s what you need this time of year. When you play good defense, I think you’ve always got a shot. I think for the most part, this team has played well on defense. When you do that, you’ve always got a chance to have success.”
NO. 12 ELLENDER AT NO. 5 TIOGA POSTPONED
The No. 12 Ellender at No. 5 Tioga Class 4A boys second-round basketball game was been postponed due to bad weather conditions and road closures across the state on Tuesday.
The game will be played at 6 p.m. tonight at Tioga. The winner of the Ellender/Tioga game will play the winner of No. 13 St. Michael at No. 4 St. Thomas More second-round playoff game in the Class 4A quarterfinals later this week.
ST. JAMES QUARTERFINAL GAME DATE SET
St. James’ boys basketball team will host Episcopal at 7 p.m. Friday in the Class 2A quarterfinals at St. James High School.
The winner of the game will advance to the to go to the Boys Top 28 Tournament in Lake Charles next week.
St. James, which is seeded 14th in the Class 2A playoffs, defeated Dunham, 63-55, during Monday’s second-round game. No. 6 Episcopal defeated Winnfield, 71-55, in the other second-round game on Tuesday.