The East Ascension Spartans drove head coach Barry Whittington, Jr. crazy on Friday night, but in the end, he and his team were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief as they escaped Dutchtown with a 54-52 victory.

The East Ascension Spartans drove head coach Barry Whittington, Jr. crazy on Friday night, but in the end, he and his team were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief as they escaped Dutchtown with a 54-52 victory.

The Spartans were in total control for most of the game and led by 13 heading into the fourth quarter, but turnovers plagued them in the final eight minutes. They allowed the Griffins to make things interesting.

"Our guys got relaxed and thought the game was over. We turned the ball over, and they got layups,” Whittington said. “Their best players started to have an impact on the game with Gary [Smith] and Nick [Caldwell], and stopping them was our No. 1 focus. But when you throw the ball directly to them, you have no choice but to let them score."

Things are different this year in District 5-5A.

Instead of playing each district opponent twice and having the team with the best league record take the title at the end of the year, teams will only play each other in one district clash. At the end of the season, there will be a district tournament to crown a champion.

So, even though East Ascension and Dutchtown are league rivals, their Friday night matchup was non-district.

The Spartans got off to a rough start. In the first quarter, they were ice cold and fell behind, 9-2. They only made two field goals in the period and trailed by 3 heading into the second.

There, East Ascension turned the tide.

A jumper by Kamron Glover and a free throw by Jimel London tied the game. London then added a coast-to-coast layup and a floater to complete a 7-0 Spartan run that gave them an 18-13 lead.

The Spartan defense began to create turnovers, and a late 3-pointer by Shedrick Smith gave them a 23-16 advantage at halftime.

Both teams were sloppy to start the second half, but another coast-to-coast layup by London stretched the Spartan lead to 9.

At the end of the quarter, he added two free throws, and Cameron Dunbar drilled a 3-pointer that opened up the biggest lead of the game at 13.

East Ascension had a 42-29 advantage heading to the final quarter.

Things didn’t change much early in the period. East Ascension played keep-away offensively, and Dutchtown’s attack remained stagnant.

After being held to 5 points, Nick Caldwell finally got something going for the Griffins. He made two straight baskets to trim the deficit to 8.

Gary Smith then made two free throws to get Dutchtown within 5.

Later, Smith made just his second field goal of the game, and Ryan Brumfield converted a basket following a steal. This barrage got the Griffins within 2 points.

However, they couldn’t get any closer.

East Ascension’s defense tightened up, and on the other end, free throws by London and Glover allowed the Spartans to close out a 54-52 victory.

Coach Whittington was frustrated with his team making so many mistakes this late into the season.

"I envisioned that by the 18th game, we wouldn't have to go through this,” Whittington said. “It's almost like we got caught up in the emotions of the game, looked in the stands and thought, "We're gonna win this game." The game shouldn't have been this close--not because of talent level, but considering how the game was going. We should have shot free throws, shot layups and closed this game out--which we didn't do."

London led the way for East Ascension as he scored 16. Shedrick Smith added 11, and Glover chipped in with 9.

The Spartans did a great job of containing Caldwell and Gary Smith for much of the game. Until late in the fourth quarter, the two had combined for just three made field goals.

Smith finished with a game-high 17, with 10 of those points coming from the line. Brumfield and Sean Warren each scored 11, and Caldwell was limited to 9.

The Spartans are now 13-6 overall. Coach Whittington is hoping his team will be playing better by the time they meet Dutchtown for a district matchup on Jan. 26.

“Those turnovers killed us. I'm gonna lose sleep just watching us turn the ball over,” Whittington said. “That's not good at this point in the season. The best thing about today is that we won--even though we didn't win the way we would have liked. It's still better than losing.”