By MIKE STROM
Special to The Advocate
There was no lack of urgency inside the Jesuit gymnasium Tuesday night.
With the pursuit of a prized Catholic League basketball championship still very much alive for both sides, Holy Cross and Jesuit played liked two teams possessed.
In the end, it was a steal and basket by forward Zachary Deblieux with 2:32 remaining and six clutch free throws sunk by junior guard Elijah Morgan and Deblieux down the stretch that proved to be the difference in a 55-50 District 9-5A victory in favor of the host Blue Jays.
Jesuit (19-6 overall, 7-2 in District 9-5A) won its third straight outing and fourth in five games to keep pace with league-leading St. Augustine and remain very much alive for the program’s first Catholic League crown since 2013.
“A Catholic League championship means a lot to me and to our players,’’ Jesuit coach Chris Jennings said. “Certainly, even more now with a 13-team state championship field (among Division Select Schools). To me it’s always meant a lot to win a district championship.’’
Jesuit entered Tuesday night’s games one game behind St. Augustine (19-9, 7-1) with the Purple Knights playing at Rummel (17-12, 4-5).
Morgan and guard Noah Varnado each scored a team-leading 11 points while Holy Cross guards Myles Sanders and Jason Chan scored 12 and 11 points respectively in a game dominated by two determined defenses.
Senior guard Will Landrieu scored 8 points and Deblieux and center Drew Black each scored 7 for the victorious Blue Jays while guard Tyler Beaver contributed 10 points to the Tigers’ cause.
Holy Cross (18-10, 5-4) for all practical purposes was eliminated from Catholic League championship contention after having a four-game winning streak broken. But the Tigers can play a huge role as spoilers with two games remaining against St. Augustine. The first of those comes Friday night at St. Augustine.
“This one hurts,’’ Holy Cross coach Mister Kirkwood said. “This is a tough one. But my kids are going to continue to compete. As I’ve said before, anything can happen on any given night in this league. Anybody can be beaten as was proven tonight.’’
The game went back and forth for three-plus quarters and was tied at 46 following a 3-point field goal by Chan with 5:14 remaining. Following a Holy Cross field goal and two Jesuit free throws, Deblieux made a steal and layup that put the Blue Jays ahead for good at 49-48 with 2:32 remaining.
Five free throws by Morgan and a single one by Deblieux kept the Tigers at bay for the remainder of the contest in which Jesuit forced Holy Cross into 18 turnovers, including eight in the third period, while committing 14.
“We definitely have to control what we can control and nothing else and that’s what we came out and did,’’ Deblieux said. “That’s what Coach has been preaching to us all year long. And that’s what we’ve been focusing on.’’
Jesuit and St. Augustine do not play again after having split their two meetings.
The Blue Jays play at Brother Martin on Friday in a rematch of a 76-50 victory recorded by the Jays this past Friday at the Jesuit gym.
“(St. Augustine has) got to play Holy Cross twice and (Holy Cross is) very good,’’ Jennings said. “Holy Cross is very capable of beating them. We’ve just got to wait and see what happens. We’ve got to worry about getting ready to play Brother Martin.
“Regardless of removing (Holy Cross) from championship contention, if we did not win tonight, then we don’t have a chance to win (the championship). We have to win the rest of our games.’’