St. Amant toughs out victory over archrival East Ascension

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Durell Smylie puts up a tough lay-in that helped him finish with 11 points against the Spartans. Photo by DKMoon Photography.

The East Ascension Spartans showed just how much potential they have Friday night as they jumped on top of archrival St. Amant early.

But fueled by a 23-point performance by Texas State signee Courtney Julien, the Gators fought back and when the fourth quarter rolled around, they took control of the game and captured a hard-fought 60-53 victory.

"We talked all week about how it has been a long time since St. Amant beat EA. EA has some good basketball tradition the last few years, and we circled this one as being one that we really wanted," St. Amant head coach Travis Uzee said. "The kids didn't give up when we went down early. They didn't give up when we played bad. They hung in there against a very good, young basketball team."

The young Spartans got off to a great start. Playing in a raucous Gold Dome, they used active, tenacious defense and a 3-pointer by Josh Andrews to jump out to a 7-0 lead. They led 13-9 heading into the second quarter.

That's when the Gators weathered the storm. Carter Templet drilled a 3-pointer at the top of the key to spark a 10-3 run that tied the game at 16.

With the game tied, things went back and forth for the rest of the half.

Nick Griffin hit a 3-pointer to give St. Amant their first lead at 25-22. The Gators led 26-24 at halftime.

After falling down four to start the third quarter, East Ascension quickly answered back. Justin Harris made a steal and cashed it in with a layup to knot up the game.

Koye Ruffin eventually gave the Spartans the lead with a big 3-pointer, but the Gators answered right back when Durell Smylie drove coast to coast and got a basket and one.

Travis Cole made two free throws late in the quarter to give St. Amant a 38-37 advantage heading into the fourth.

The Gators came out strong as they reeled off an 8-1 run. Julien was the catalyst as he made a coast-to-coast lay-in and then followed it up with a jumper.

The run gave St. Amant their biggest lead of the game at eight, but a three by Kameron Kelson helped the Spartans stay within striking distance.

After another 3-pointer by Andrews, East Ascension was able to trim the deficit down to one, but they could never get over the hump.

The Gators struggled on the free-throw line for much of the game but when they needed them the most, they came through. Their late-game precision allowed them to sew up the 60-53 victory.

"I'm so proud of this group because they just battle; that's what they do, and it amazes me sometimes. It's just fun to coach them," Uzee said.

Like much of the season, the Spartans were game; they just couldn't finish.

"It's the same old story. We don't get blown out; we just lose," East Ascension head coach Barry Whittington Jr. said. "So, right now, I'm just trying to get our guys to learn that in key moments, we need to learn from those moments and take advantage of our opportunities. I'm tired of saying we're young, but it just shows up. We're getting better; we just have to get over the hump."

Andrews led the Spartans with 11. Kelson and Ruffin each chipped in with 10 apiece.

As for the Gators, Griffin and Smylie each had 11, but Julien led the way with a game-high 23.

"We follow [Courtney]. He can do some things and make some plays, but he can also help other people make plays. That's why he's so special," Uzee said. "He knows when we need him, and he knows when he needs to give it to someone else. When we have that balance, we become pretty tough."

The big win improved St. Amant to 16-9 overall and 3-1 within the district.

As for East Ascension, it dropped them to 9-16 and 1-3 in league play, but Coach Whittington isn't totally discouraged. He knows his team has the talent to turn things around; they just have to play better.

"They're trying to be fancy at the wrong time. I told them at practice that fancy doesn't score points; getting the ball to the basket scores points," Whittington said. "The good thing is, we're still in the thick of things in district. I know it sounds crazy, but it's early, and there's a lot of parody in our district."