LAKE CHARLES — Outside shooting was thought to be one weakness that could make top-seeded Natchitoches Central vulnerable. But it’s only a weakness if it becomes a problem.
And it wasn’t because the Chiefs scored almost all their second-half points in the lane to claim a 54-52 come-from-behind victory over No. 2 Scotlandville in the Class 5A championship game that closed out the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Boys Top 28 tournament on Friday night.
With title-game MVP Brandon Rachal scoring a game-high 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting and Marquis King pitching in 12 of his 13 points in the second half, the Chiefs (33-3) built an eight-point fourth-quarter lead.
The Hornets (34-3) rallied, getting within two just before the final buzzer on a 3-pointer by Garrick Green. The win for NCHS avenged a loss to Scotlandville a year ago, giving the Chiefs two of the past three 5A title decided by the two schools. Friday’s three-game session attracted 6,789 fans to Burton Coliseum.
“What a game. … Great game,” Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample said. “I just have to commend Natchitoches Central on a job well done. They toughed it out.
“My heart goes out to the people in that area in the flood. They gave the city something to be proud about it. I think they really out toughed us tonight. We talked about pounding the boards and being tough. In the second half, they out toughed us.”
Ja’Vonte Smart led Scotlandville with 21 points, and Jordan Adebutu added nine for a Scotlandville team seeking its fourth title in five years. The Hornets made their seventh straight title-game appearance and led 20-15 at the half.
NCHS rebounded from making 26.3 percent of its first-half shots to hitting 56.5 percent (13 of 23 shots) in the second half. Natchitoches Central attempted just one 3-pointer.
Scotlandville was plagued by seven second-half turnovers and foul issues for Green, who was the key defender under the goal.
The Chiefs outrebounded Scotlandville 28-23.
“I honestly have no words for what just happened,” NCHS coach Micah Coleman said. “They poured themselves out for each other. Tonight was just a culmination of what they have been doing since walking out of this place with that empty feeling.
“We hammered the ball inside and got a lot of touches earlier. We got Garrick (Green) in foul trouble. I never saw a team attack the boards like we did in the second half. In the second half, we made the good things happen.”
The score was tied three times in the first quarter before Smart connected on a 3-pointer from the left wing with 36.2 seconds left.
That shot sent the Hornets into the second quarter with a 12-11 lead. The offensive successes were even harder to come by in the second quarter. The teams combined to score just 12 points.
Smart and Joshua Roberts each hit a 3-pointer in the period.
Scotlandville led by as much as eight points and took a 20-15 lead into the locker room. Smart had 11 first-half points, and Rachal led the Chiefs with seven.
King’s three-point play gave NCHS a 24-23 with 5:44 left in the third quarter. The teams traded the lead three times. A basket and a layup by Adebutu tied it at 30.
But Rachal scored on a layup with 25 seconds left to send the Chiefs into the fourth quarter with a 32-30 lead.
The game remained close until Rachal powered a 6-0 run that put the Chiefs ahead 46-38 with less than two minutes on a basket by King, giving Scotlandville too much ground to make up.
Smart and Adebutu were left saying they could have done more. Rachal knew he had done enough.
“I felt like we had the game in our hand,” Rachal said. “We were feeding off our crowd. I felt like the championship belonged to us all year and victory rewarded for us.”