Northside’s three-point loss at Ellender in the first round of last year’s Class 4A state playoffs set off a chain of events that led the Vikings to this juncture.
Two weeks after that setback Northside was back in the gym and weight room, motivated to reach greater heights, which the Vikings have positioned themselves to achieve.
Northside (21-7, 9-0) finds itself with the opportunity to win the District 4-4A championship, but in order to accomplish that they must win at St. Thomas More (28-7, 8-1) at 7:15 p.m. Friday.
“They’ve done a good job since we lost at Ellender last year. I’m happy because all of the work has paid off,” Northside coach Ross Rix said. “We started rolling at the right time and all the credit goes to the kids and the job they’ve done preparing.”
The district’s schedule-makers could not have drawn up a better scenario to end the regular season.
Northside can win the district outright and potentially leap-frog St. Thomas More and wind up with a No. 2 or No. 3 LHSAA Class 4A power ratings for the start of next week’s playoffs.
“Since the start of the district we hadn’t talked about winning a district championship,” Rix said. “We’ve talked about being a champion every day on and off the floor. This week hasn’t been anything different.”
The game has equal value to STM which is No. 2 in the latest unofficial power ratings.
STM needs a win to force a tie for the district championship. In that event, the teams would meet at 7 p.m. Saturday for a special playoff at Ascension Episcopal, a development that could push the Cougars into a No. 1 seed with a victory.
“A lot of people say district championships don’t mean a lot anymore, but I’m old school, I like district championships,” STM coach Danny Broussard said. “It’s something to shoot for. It’s one of our goals at the beginning of the year.”
STM came excruciating close to winning at Northside in the first round, falling 42-41 in overtime.
Northside’s Darius Randell broke a 41-all tie with a free throw, but STM’s Jude Joseph couldn’t answer, missing a pair with no time on the clock.
“It’s hard to take a loss like that,” Broussard said. “I don’t expect anything but a close game again. They’re so talented. It’s always a chess match against them.”
The first big move in the first encounter came in the second half when STM rallied from a 30-28 halftime deficit to take a second-half lead and held the ball out on the perimeter.
Not only did Broussard feel his defense was having trouble slowing down Randell and Brandon Ellis, who combined for 32 points, but he tried unsuccessfully to get Northside out of its 1-2-2 matchup zone and play man-to-man.
The Cougars feature four players in double figures, ranging from guard DeVante’ Benjamin (10.6, 6.1 rebounds), 6-7 center William Vincent (10.6, 8.4), point guard Trevor Begue (10.3, 3.8 assists) and guard Jonathan Cisse (10.1, 4.7).
Randell’s 16-point average and Ellis’ 13 top Northside’s scoring, along with Jonte Morrison (12.6, 6.0).
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we had another held ball situation which is sometimes coach Broussard’s strategy when he gets up,” Rix said. “Now I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s an up tempo game either. I’m unsure about it. You have to prepare for everything.”