Huge third quarter nets Gators first playoff win since 2009

Kyle Riviere
Head coach Travis Uzee and his St. Amant Gators celebrate after a thrilling 62-60 first-round victory over Airline. Photo by Tammy Gaudin.

Over the last few years, there have been multiple occasions when St. Amant has found a way to outlast Airline in a back-and-forth dogfight.

But those past victories weren't as sweet as the one they tasted last Friday night.

This time, the Gators fought back from 15 down to capture their first playoff win in nearly a decade.

"When we were down 11 at halftime, we challenged each other in the locker room. There's a lot of heart on that team," St. Amant head coach Travis Uzee said. "They didn't want to give in. We have goals that we set before the season started, and we're in the process of trying to achieve them. They want it. I'm very proud of them. I love this group. They're fun. These seniors, they deserve this."

The Gators' opening-round matchup with Airline was their first home playoff game since 2009. Though, they played the game at Dutchtown.

The Vikings came into the contest on a 12-game winning streak, and early on against St. Amant, they remained hot.

They absolutely smothered the Gators in the first 12 minutes, holding them to just two points.

K.J. Franklin began to put some points on the board for St. Amant in the second quarter, but after two straight 3-pointers by Airline, they took their biggest lead of the game at 24-9.

Franklin got the Gators a little closer at the half following a trey of his own, but they still trailed by 11 at the break.

"I don't know what happened in that first half. They had a great game plan coming in," Uzee said. "They played a little triangle-two. We knew what to do; we prepared for that, but we just didn't execute mentally early on."

It was a different story in the second half.

The Gators hit Airline with everything but the kitchen sink in the third quarter, and with the crowd getting hyped, the Vikings looked frazzled.

St. Amant began with a 13-2 run. A jumper by Jahnoi Daley gave them their first lead of the game.

Things snowballed from there.

To end the quarter, Justin Gibson made a steal from an inbounds pass. He converted an easy layup.

Just before the buzzer, Javin Augillard came up with a steal, went coast to coast and made a contested layup. This completed an amazing 24-3 third quarter by the Gators to give them a 44-34 lead heading to the fourth.

Airline finally regained their composure.

They were able to cut the deficit to five with just under two minutes left to play.

Things got tense for St. Amant late as they were forced to play most of the final minute without three starters. Gibson and Augillard both fouled out, and Jerome Turner went down with an injury.

It became a free-throw contest, and St. Amant won that contest.

Franklin made two big free throws, but it was Daley that really helped the Gators hold on as he went 4-4 from the line down the stretch.

In the end, St. Amant was able to celebrate a 62-60 victory, their first postseason win since 2009.

"We've played those guys five times in the past three years. Four of those five had been dogfights that have gone right down to the wire," Uzee said. "They remember the one time we went up there for their tournament and beat them pretty good. They wanted this one for revenge."

Franklin led the way for the Gators with 19, while Gibson, Augillard and Turner all scored 10.

Daley scored nine--none being more important than the four clutch points he collected from the charity stride.

"He made big shots from the line and kept us at arms distance," Uzee said. "Jahnoi does every single thing right. The kid doesn't know what bad is. He doesn't know what trouble is. He's the guy you want on that line to make those free throws."

The victory pushed No. 13 St. Amant to the second round to face a supremely-talented fourth-seeded Walker (29-4) squad on the road. They beat the Gators back on Jan. 3 by a 81-56 margin.