East Ascension has many new pieces this year, but it's still their grizzled veterans they look to when the game is on the line.
East Ascension has many new pieces this year, but it’s still their grizzled veterans they look to when the game is on the line.
In a close contest against Port Allen in their opening matchup of the Spartan Classic tournament on Wednesday night, East Ascension looked to senior leaders Jimel London and Shedrick Smith to close out the win, and they did just that.
The Spartans couldn’t buy a free throw for much of the game, but in the waning moments, London and Smith helped ice the victory with three big makes from the line.
"If you can't make all of them, you need to make them when they count the most, and I think that's where we are,” Spartan head coach Barry Whittington, Jr. said. “Going back to the last game we played, we've been missing free throws. I don't know how to fix it. I've been trying to figure it out. If anyone has a suggestion, please call me and let me know."
It was only East Ascension’s second game of the season, and it was their first game with their football players back.
The Spartans have a lot to replace this season as they move ahead without their leading scorer of the last two seasons: Le’Aaron Cain.
Smith tried to pick up the slack early against Port Allen as he nailed a 3-pointer to give them a 5-2 lead, and he then hit another to stretch the advantage to 10-5.
However, the Spartans got sloppy and started turning the ball over. The Pelicans took advantage and went on an 8-2 run to take a 17-15 lead into the second quarter.
East Ascension responded with a rally of their own.
Smith drained another trey, and London came up with a layup and foul. He made the ensuing free throw to complete a 9-4 Spartan spurt that gave them a 28-23 lead.
London had 14 in the first half as East Ascension held on to a 31-27 advantage.
To start the third quarter, the Spartans were cold from the field. The Pelicans weren’t.
Port Allen went on an 8-2 run and regained the lead, but the Spartans promptly responded.
Dontae Jackson came up with an and-one play at the end of the quarter that gave East Ascension a 42-41 lead.
It looked like the Spartans were going to run away with things in the fourth as their defense cranked up and began forcing turnovers.
London made two straight buckets to stretch the lead to 7, but Port Allen reeled off 5 quick points to get within 2.
They then hit a 3-pointer to go up 1, but Tre Joseph made a big layup equipped with a free throw to put the Spartans back ahead.
With the lead, Smith went 2-2 from the line, and London added another free throw that allowed East Ascension to escape with a 59-57 victory.
"We played really well in certain spots, and then toward the end of the game, we were up by 5 with 1:30 left, and we shoot an ill-advised three, a pull-up jumpshot, we miss some free throws and we have some defensive breakdowns,” Whittington said. “At that point, when you're up 5, you should be winning the game by shooting free throws and winning by 10. That's something that we need to learn to do.
“This is some of the guys' first game as a varsity player. A game like this is good because it wasn't a blowout. I don't think you learn very much from blowing people out, so I'm glad we were able to pull out the win."
For the Spartans, Smith had 14—which included four 3-pointers. Jackson added 8.
London was the catalyst for East Ascension as he poured in a game-high 22.
"He's only missed one game with an injury and one where he was playing football, so he has a lot of experience and a lot of hard work that he's put in, but we're going to have to have other guys step up when other teams game-plan for him and try to keep the ball out of his hands,” Whittington said. “We had some guys step up in key moments. We're trying to get Tre Joseph going. We want to get his confidence up and figure out what his role is going to be."
The Spartans will take on Assumption tonight at 8.