With first place in District 5-5A on the line, East Ascension rode its best half of the season to a 70-60 win at McKinley Tuesday night.

The Spartans raced out to a 16-point halftime lead, and then survived a late rally by McKinley that had the Panthers as close as 64-58 with 1:18 left to play.

“That’s probably the best we’ve played offensively and defensively all year,” East Ascension coach Barry Whittington said of his team’s first half performance. “We executed the game plan, and thank God we built that cushion. It was longest two minutes of my life at the end of the game.”

Shedrick Smith was the catalyst with 24 points including a 75-foot buzzer beating 3-pointer that helped East Ascension (18-7, 3-1) take a 41-25 halftime lead. It capped a half in which the Spartans shot 52 percent (12 of 23) and made five 3-pointers.

“There was a lot of emotion involved,” Smith said. “We were trying to get the whole team involved. The shots were open so I took them.”

East Ascension and McKinley (18-9, 2-2) came into the contest a half game behind St. Amant for first place in district. The Spartans win leaves a three-way tie for first between EA, St. Amant and Catholic, which defeated Dutchtown 63-40.

Also hitting double figures for East Ascension were Trevion Joseph with 20, and Hobert Grayson with 13.

McKinley was led by Marcus Coleman (22 points) and Tyrece Radford (15).

The first quarter was close with McKinley holding a 12-10 lead with 1:33 left. The Spartans closed with a 9-0 run that Smith capped off with a three-quarter court heave for a 19-12 EA lead.

A 3-pointer by Grayson and a drive by Jimel London put the Spartans up 24-14 early in the second quarter. East Ascension continued to build on the lead, and scored eight of the last 10 points in the half to go up 41-25.

The lead was as big as 17 points in the third quarter, and McKinley didn’t get the deficit under 10 points until Daunte Jackson’s follow shot made it 58-49 with three minutes left in the game.

“If we can take care of business on Friday we can at least claim a share of the (district) title,” Whittington said. “We’ll go into the district tournament seeded either first or second depending on what happens with Catholic.”