East Ascension drops home thriller to Tara

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen
East Ascension's Jimel London dives to the floor to get a loose ball in the Spartans' 54-49 loss to Tara. Photo by Dewey Keller.

After losing three straight games and being down by 15 in the third quarter, it would have been easy for the young and inexperienced East Ascension squad to pack it in, but that's not what happened Monday night.

They mounted a furious rally that saw them get within one point of Tara. In the waning moments, they had plenty of opportunities to tie or even take the lead, but the shots just wouldn't go down.

East Ascension was forced to helplessly watch their attempts go in and roll right back out of the rim in a tough 54-49 loss to the Trojans.

"It hurts, but our kids had an opportunity where they could have just hung their heads being down by 12, but we fought until the end," Spartan head coach Barry Whittington said.

Tara got off to a quick 7-0 start after two steals that were followed by breakaway lay-ins by Paul Johnson. They then took a 12-5 lead with a big breakaway dunk by Youry White.

The Spartans got an answer right before the end of the quarter when Josh Andrews made a lay-in at the buzzer to cut the advantage to 12-9.

Fueled by a Keindrick Stewart 3-pointer, Tara stretched their lead to 10 in the second.

Their speed and athleticism killed East Ascension in transition, and their advantage in size helped them seize a big advantage in rebounding.

After another big trey, the Trojans were able to head into the half with a 27-14 lead.

Already facing the double-digit deficit, the Spartans started the third quarter cold as ice and in that time, Tara was able to extend their advantage to 15.

The game looked like it was primed to turn into a blowout. It was less than a week earlier when East Ascension had to suffer through a 106-36 thrashing to ultra-talented Madison Prep.

But Monday night was different. There was no quit in the young Spartans.

Shedrick Smith nailed a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 12, and East Ascension got it down to 38-27 heading into the fourth quarter.

It was there that all the momentum shifted in the Spartans' favor.

Bilal Frank started the quarter with two big free throws to cut the lead to seven.

The crowd began to get amped, East Ascension dialed up their press and as a result, Tara began to turn the ball over in bunches.

The Spartans took full advantage as Frank went to the goal and made a circus shot while being fouled. After sinking the free throw, East Ascension cut the lead to two.

Later, Smith drilled another big 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one, but the Spartans just could not get over the hump.

Frank had a game-tying lay-in rim out, and Smith had a game-tying 3-point attempt go in in and pop right back out.

The close misses allowed Tara to do just enough to close the game out and take a thrilling 54-49 victory.

"The kids are doing the best they can. We have such a young team," Whittington said. "They have to understand what kind of looks you're supposed to get in key situations. I'm proud of the effort. Of course, I'm not proud of the outcome; we wanted to win the game, but we're getting better."

In the win, Johnson led the way for Tara with 14.

For the Spartans, Smith was the only player to reach double-figures. He had a game-high 15. Andrews, Frank and Jaren Roche all scored seven apiece.

"Our lack of size was a glaring weakness," Whittington said. "We didn't do a good job of putting bodies on guys in transition after they took a shot. That's something that we really have to make a priority every time they get the ball."

With East Ascension losing four straight games and dropping to 3-7 overall, Coach Whittington knows it's crucial that his young squad decides on an approach moving forward.

"Right now, we're still trying to figure out what kind of team we're going to be," Whittington said. "Are we going to be a man team, a press team? We have to get some things figured out."