After a disappointing 2013-14 season ended with Brother Martin getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs, coach Chris Biehl knew his team needed a change.
The Crusaders lost four seniors from last year’s squad, and the Brother Martin coach decided the team needed to play at a faster pace and force opponents into mistakes with their speed and agility.
That change in approach paid dividends Friday night as the No. 9-seeded Crusaders (22-8) forced 21 turnovers to help them cruise to 60-40 victory at home over No. 24 Comeaux in a Class 5A bidistrict playoff game.
“I’ve been coaching high school basketball for 16 years, and I’ve never coached this way,” Biehl said. “When you’ve got the kind of kids that we have, they love to run and they love to play defense. We just wanted to build a team that was prepared for the playoffs.
“This team has better chemistry than any one I’ve ever seen, and you can play that style when everyone trusts each other.”
Brother Martin moves on to face No. 8 West Jefferson in the regional round after the Buccaneers’ 71-58 win over Broadmoor.
Brother Martin guard Luke Walker led all scorers with 16 points, making five of his nine shots from the field. Irv Smith added 15 points and five rebounds.
“We really wanted to come out and let our defense be our best offense,” Walker said. “Once we started flying around in that first quarter, we knew that we could force them into mistakes.”
Comeaux coach Jeremy Whittington said his team’s lack of experience hurt because his younger players hadn’t faced many teams that play Brother Martin’s full-court pressure style.
Jaleel Moore paced the Spartans (20-10) attack with 12 points on 2-of-4 shooting from 3-point range and added four rebounds.
“We lost eight seniors from last year, so it was completely a rebuild this year,” Whittington said. “We just hadn’t seen a team that gets on you and plays pressure defense like that all year, and I think our guards just turned it over too often.”
Brother Martin’s pressure defense came out in full force from opening tip, forcing Comeaux into seven turnovers in the first quarter. Smith poked away a Spartans inbound pass and drained a half-court shot as the buzzer sounded to give the Brother Martin a 19-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Crusaders continued to dominate in the second quarter, holding Comeaux scoreless the first six minutes of the period.
After a Walker putback layup gave Brother Martin a 31-12 lead, the Spartans began to find their groove offensively and closed the quarter on a 5-0 run.
Ferontay Banks’ runner as time expired cut the Spartans’ deficit to 31-17 by halftime.
“Intensity, that’s the No. 1 thing we’re always focused on,” Walker said.
“If we’re playing that way, we can get turnovers and score easy baskets. That’s the name of the game.”