Higgins coach Calvin Thompson said his team had a tall order Saturday night.
One, he was playing without two players, including a starter, who were sick
And second was the even taller order: Chalmette’s 7-foot junior Mitchell Robinson.
But Higgins overcame both, rallying for a 49-47 victory in the championship game of the Chalmette High/Valero Christmas Classic.
Senior guard Alex Smith scored 13 points to lead the Hurricanes (6-6). He was also named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“It feels good to get MVP because we got a win, but this is a team award,” said Smith. “It was a good win. A tough fight.”
Smith scored all of his points in the second half to help Higgins erase a 19-13 halftime deficit.
“This was a big win for us,” said Thompson, in his first season as coach. “I think this is going to turn our season around. We had lost five straight games at the beginning of the season, and now we have won five straight. I think we have finally got it together. They are jelling and not being selfish.”
Thompson, who took over for longtime coach Marshall Jackson who retired last season, saw his team win despite missing De’Vonta Overton and Darrel Jordan.
“We had a plan when we came in,” Thompson said. “We wanted to make it a low-scoring game and try to take the big boy out of the game. Whoever was sticking him had to play outside and be able to handle the ball. We had to give it all we got because we knew our backs were up against the wall.”
Robinson, who committed to Texas A&M after transferring to Chalmette from Florida, finished with 10 points, four rebounds and five blocks. But he fouled out with 5:20 left and his team trailing 37-33.
The Owls (10-3), trying to win their own tournament for the first time since before Hurricane Katrina, were unable to come back
Robinson scored just four points in the first half. His only field goal came on a putback slam after his blocked shot on the other end led to a fast break.
Junior guard Josh Williams picked up the slack in the half though, scoring eight points. His back-to-back 3-pointers in the second quarter stretched a 9-8 lead to a 15-8 lead.
The Owls outscored the Hurricanes 12-7 in the quarter to build a 19-13 halftime lead.
But Higgins took over in the third quarter.
“I thought we made some costly turnovers at crucial points,” Owls coach Butch Stockton said. “We didn’t have the same intensity when we came out the second half. But you have to give credit to Higgins. They came out ready to play. We have to go back to the drawing board.”
Nathan Bailey scored 11 points, including three 3-pointers for the Hurricanes, who avenged a 57-27 loss to the Owls earlier this season.
Higgins built a 46-38 lead late, but struggled from the free-throw line, missing 7 of 8 in the final 1:13, to give the Owls a chance late.
After Smith made one of two free throws with 11.3 seconds left to make it 49-47, Chalmette had one last chance but turned it over.
Williams led Chalmette with 14 points, including three 3-pointers.
Williams and Robinson were named to the all-tournament team for Chalmette.
Bailey and Christopher Jones made it from Higgins, along with MVP Smith.
Other players named to the all-tournament team were: Iman Fazande (Rummel), Asken Stamm (Rummel), Brendan Conroy (Jesuit), Rob Weiss (Jesuit), and John Norvel (Salmen).