There wasn’t any belaboring the point about the calling cards McKinley and St. Michael the Archangel used to reach the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA boys state basketball tournament this week.
Season-long commitments to strict man-to-man defense served both well again, helping the Panthers and Warriors punch their tickets to the state semifinals this week at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
“Our defense is our primary source,” McKinley coach Harold Boudreaux said. “It becomes our offense and our kids know we have to rely on it. That’s our No. 1 asset, and they believe in it. There can never be an off night on defense.”
No. 5-seeded McKinley (22-12) advanced to its first state tournament in five years with a 50-46 victory at No. 4 John Curtis. The Panthers, who were led junior guard Tyrese Radford's 27 points, held the Patriots 20 points under their season scoring average.
McKinley meets cross-town opponent and top-seeded Scotlandville (29-2) in a Division I semifinal at 3 p.m. Thursday.
The approach was the same for No. 5 St. Michael (26-6), holding No. 4 St. Louis to 21 points under its season norm in a 47-34 road victory.
For the second time in three years the Warriors return to the state tournament, facing local pillar and top-seeded University High (30-4) — the three-time defending Class 3A state champion — in a Division II semifinal at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
“We’ve played good man (defense) all year,” St. Michael coach Drew Hart said. “But my guys just locked up. They’ve done this all season. They’ve been resilient and handled adversity very well.”
The Baton Rouge area will have a decided imprint on this year’s state tournament — dubbed Marsh Madness — with two returning state champions in U-High and No. 1 Madison Prep Academy, which faces No. 13 West St. Mary (21-8) in Class 2A action at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Scotlandville is back in the state semifinals for its eighth straight year.
The Dunham School in Division III, Southern Lab in Division IV and Jehovah-Jireh in Division V are all top-seeded teams and give the Baton Rouge area 10 teams vying for state titles.
The basketball-rich area is guaranteed three teams playing for state championship games on Friday and Saturday with three all-local semifinals in Scotlandville-McKinley, U-High-St. Michael and District 8-2A rivals Dunham (26-4) and Episcopal (30-6) which meet for the third time this season at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday.
No. 4 White Castle (24-13) erased a six-year state tournament drought and is the lone representative from outside Baton Rouge to advance to the semifinals. The Bulldogs will challenge Class 1A’s top-seeded Sicily Island (24-13) at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Jehovah-Jireh (33-6) returns to the state tournament for the first time since 2004, overcoming a long layoff to roll in the second half past No. 9 Vision Academy 97-55.
The Warriors, who led 34-25 at halftime, had four double-figure scorers led by Donald Johnson III’s 18 points and Jaron Davis’ 15.
“It’s good the kids get to advance,” said JJCA’s coach Dirk Ricks, whose team meets No. 4 Episcopal School of Acadiana (29-10) in a 3 p.m. Monday semifinal. “It’s a great opportunity for them to continue a season that we’ve had some success.”
McKinley rallied from a 28-26 halftime deficit against Curtis to tie the game at 37 heading into the fourth quarter, where Radford turned a steal into a key three-point play with 17 seconds left.
“We’re going to continue to go with what we believe in,” said Boudreaux, whose team meets Scotlandville for the first time this year. “That’s relying on our defense to keep us in games and try and convert on the offensive side.”
St. Michael’s formula against St. Louis was simple: Rely on the inside scoring of Treylon Sibley (15 points) and Evan Ragusa (11 points, nine rebounds) and a tenacious defense that didn’t allow a field goal over the final 6:20 of the game.
“After a three-point play by Sibley,” Hart said, “I looked at our guys and said, ‘you know what you’ve got to do right now, go get some (defensive) stops’. That’s what they did, they’re a tough group.”