BASKETBALL

St. Amant makes strong run in Gold Dome Classic

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
St. Amant's Courtney Julien went an amazing 22-24 from the free-throw line to lead the Gators past Hammond. Photo by Dewey Keller.

The St. Amant Gators may have fallen to reigning state runner-up Scotlandville in the finals of the Ralph Sellers Gold Dome Classic on Saturday, but their run to the championship game presented many positives to their head coach Travis Uzee.

After a 64-50 win over Hammond in the semifinals on Friday night, Uzee said that he thinks his team is starting to come together at the right time.

"We went to Natchitoches for a week, and I felt that we took two lumps to two good teams, and then we won against a good team," Uzee said. "I think that in that trip, the kids formed a bond. They enjoyed being together, and they realized this could be a really fun and special season.

"That's what kind of carried us in this tournament. I'm proud of these kids. They work hard all offseason, during the season; we ask them to do a lot, and they step up to the challenge."

St. Amant rose to that challenge for much of the tournament. After rolling over Mentorship Academy and Redemptorist in the opening two rounds, the Gators tangled with a hot-shooting Hammond squad in the semifinals on Friday night.

Nick Griffin got off to a hot start for St. Amant as he scored the Gators' first seven points to give them an early 7-5 lead. That advantage stretched to seven points right before the end of the quarter when Durell Smylie put in an easy lay-in right under the basket.

To start the second quarter, Crandell Christoff threw down a big dunk after a steal and then nailed a jumper to give St. Amant their biggest lead at nine.

Hammond did their best to cut into the deficit, but Griffin drilled a jumper with just a few ticks left in the quarter to give St. Amant a 27-20 halftime lead.

The Gators started off fast in the third as they ran out to a 9-0 run with Courtney Julien making five straight free throws. It helped St. Amant build their biggest lead of the game at 36-20.

"We talked about it at halftime that if we could just make a little run at them, we could make them come out and guard us man," Uzee said. "We were attacking the zone well; we were doing a great job at it, but we felt like we could take advantage of our size."

Julien continued his assault as he hit two big shots to give St. Amant a 42-28 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

It appeared the Gators had the game well in hand, but that's when Hammond caught fire.

The Tornados hit two big 3-pointers, got two clutch free throws from Spencer Floyd and another trey by Rickiulle Hunter to cut the lead down to four points with 2:41 remaining.

However, a big rebound by Smylie that he followed with an and-one play, put St. Amant back up by eight.

From there, it was all Julien. He kept making trips to the line, and he kept sinking every single shot. Behind his deadly free-throw-line proficiency, the Gators were able to pull away with the 64-50 win.

"At the end of the day, we made free throws, and we got rebounds," Uzee said. "That team, we knew that they were going to shoot it, shoot it, shoot it, and they shot it really well tonight. We got rebounds when they missed and then, we made free throws."

Hammond saw three players score in double-figures with Floyd leading the way with 15. Hunter had 11, and Derek Harper was right behind with 10.

As for St. Amant, Julien--the recent Texas State signee--was at the top of his game. Though he only made four field goals, he lived on the free-throw line--where he was an amazing 22-24. He finished with a game-high 30 points.

Griffin was big as well as he poured in 18 with Smylie and Christoff chipping in with eight apiece.