Strong second half lifts EA to second round

Kyle Riviere
Gonzales Weekly Citizen
East Ascension’s Keith Thomas scored 16 points in the Spartans’ playoff win over Hahnville.

East Ascension ended the regular season in a bit of a funk, losing three of its final four games. And those struggles appeared to carry over into the Spartans’ first-round playoff game against Hahnville on Friday night.

East Ascension trailed for most of the first half and fell down five early in the third quarter. 

However, behind the trio of Troy Dunn, Keith Thomas and N’derius Walker, the Spartans turned things around in the final 16 minutes. They outscored the Tigers, 35-23, in the second half. That allowed East Ascension to pull away with a 61-52 victory.

“We haven’t been playing well coming off of breaks. This was our first game since last Wednesday, and we didn’t play well early on,” Spartan coach Darnell Lee said. “That’s something that we need to work on. We started slow tonight, which I attribute a lot of that to Hahnville. But our guys were able to settle in, and we got things going in the second half.”

It was just last season that Hahnville ended the Spartans’ season with an emphatic second-round playoff victory. Early on Friday night, the Tigers looked like the better team once again.

Hahnville ran out to a 10-4 lead, and the Tigers took a 15-11 advantage into the second quarter.

East Ascension fought its way back to take a four-point lead, but the Tigers countered with a 9-2 run to end the first half. That gave them a 29-26 advantage heading into the break.

After Hahnville stretched the lead to five to begin the third quarter, East Ascension took over.

A transition layup by Walker tied the game, and then Walker made two free throws to give the Spartans a lead.

A contested layup by Thomas helped East Ascension take a 42-37 advantage into the fourth quarter.

There, Dunn nailed a 3-pointer to give the Spartans an eight-point lead. A trey by Jacorey Mitchell stretched the East Ascension advantage to nine.

Hahnville cut it back down to five points late, but the Spartans were able to put the game away from the free-throw line.

Dunn scored 17 for East Ascension. Both Walker and Thomas score 16. Twenty of those 49 combined points came from the charity stride.

“Those guys have been playing tough all year. It’s a talented group,” Lee said. “We made some shots tonight. In our last game, we didn’t. We shot the ball a little bit better tonight, and we made a bunch of shots from the free-throw line, and it was enough for us to get the win.”

It’s now seventh straight seasons in which the Spartans have won a first-round playoff game.

With the victory, No. 14 East Ascension advances to the second round. The Spartans will now play third-seeded Ruston, who beat Dutchtown, 57-44, in round one.

“I think we need to improve on our on-the-ball defense,” Lee said. “We have to stop the penetration, and if they do penetrate, our help side has got to be there. In our district, there are so many great 3-point shooters, so our help side is worrying about that kick backside, and that’s resulting in us giving up layups. We’ve got to do a better job of taking away those high-percentage shots.”