Despite missing leading scorer Luke Walker for most of the game due to foul trouble, Brother Martin used a team effort to push past St. Thomas More 61-50 into the finals of the Sunkist Shootout.
The Crusaders received a balanced offensive effort while holding a small lead throughout most of the game.
“We are blessed with kids one through 12, moreso than any other team I’ve ever coached,” Brother Martin coach Chris Biehl said. “So losing Luke is huge for us, but the opportunity was there for some of our players, and they took it.”
With the win, Brother Martin moves on to play St. Augustine in the final, at 7 p.m. Monday at St. Thomas More while St. Thomas More will play Lafayette Christian in the third-place game at 5:30 p.m.
Biehl said underclassman guards Tre Swilling and Drew Lewis combined for nine points and five rebounds off the bench. In limited minutes, Walker, who led the team in scoring in the quarterfinal matchup against Carencro, scored only four points before fouling out.
Sophomore guard Vejon Wallis picked up where Walker left off. Proving to be the difference on both ends of the floor, he racked up 18 points while using his lanky 6-foot-2 frame to help stifle the Cougars offense.
Wallis finished with a double-double, pulling down four rebounds.
Biehl said Wallis has improved throughout the season, proving to be a consistent force for the Crusaders to rely upon.
“A college program is going to pick (Wallis) up next year and be very happy with what they get,” Biehl said.
St. Thomas More coach Danny Broussard praised the physicality of the Crusaders, whom he dubbed one of the best programs in the state.
“Trying to match that physicality throughout the game was always going to be tough,” Broussard said. “Give them credit cause we made some good reads out there, but we just couldn’t get over the hump.
The game remained close throughout, with the Cougars pulling within two points of the lead several times — the last time with six minutes left in the game. But whenever the Cougars pulled themselves back into the game, the Crusaders responded with a run to keep the game out of reach.
Broussard said the Crusaders’ performance was particularly impressive considering the hostile atmosphere in the Cougars’ gym.
“They always responded, whether it was hitting a contested shot or driving into the lane, they made the plays they needed to when it counted,” Broussard said.
Guard Devanté Benjamin, who scored 19 points on 16 shots, paced the Cougars offensively. But the physicality began affecting the Cougars at the rim, causing them to miss open shooters on the perimeter, according to Broussard.
Furthering the problem, the Cougars only shot 63 percent from the charity stripe.
Broussard said Benjamin has helped the offense throughout the tournament, particularly with his ability to get to the rim.
“The only thing I thought was, (Brother Martin) was doing a really good job helping and a couple times we could’ve pitched out for some open threes,” Broussard said. “But we took the contested shots and couldn’t hit our free throws.”