METAIRIE — East Jefferson’s Shaquille Preston struggled for most of Wednesday night, visibly frustrated because he was unable to impact the District 10-4A game against St. Augustine with his perimeter shooting and slashing moves.
Still, in the final minutes of East Jefferson’s 53-46 victory, Preston, the Warriors’ leading scorer, found a way to produce an offensive burst, just enough to earn a district championship in front of a home crowd.
He scored nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, including two layups in the final two minutes, as East Jefferson swept its home-and-home series against St. Augustine.
“I had a hot head at the beginning of the game,” Preston said. “I had to calm down. My teammates and my coach told me to keep my head, so I just got back into the game.”
The Warriors (27-2, 9-0) needed him to overcome a dominating performance by St. Augustine’s Craig Victor, who scored a game-high 18 points. With East Jefferson’s defense focused on curtailing Victor in the post, he still managed to bully his defenders, scoring four times on monstrous dunks.
“They executed when they had to execute,” Victor said of the Warriors. “When we needed to, we turned the ball over. We had 17 turnovers in this game, 10 in the second half. We cut down the turnovers in the second half, we win by at least six points.”
St. Augustine’s Bryce Washington added 12 points, including six in the fourth quarter — all free throws. But it wasn’t enough. While Preston found his offense, St. Augustine lost its chance to rally. After Bryce Washington’s two free throws trimmed East Jefferson’s lead to 46-44, Warriors point guard Eugene Wells committed a turnover.
But on defense, Preston stepped into the passing lane, deflected a pass, which was intercepted. Preston turned the steal into a layup.
He followed it by reaching the rim again on the next possession, this time getting fouled as he scored. Preston added the free throw. On East Jefferson’s next possession, he made two more free throws, giving East Jefferson a 51-44 lead.
“He knows even if he struggles throughout the game, we’re going to need him when it comes to crunch time,” East Jefferson coach Ryan Dicharry said. “If he’s going to play a couple of bad quarters, I’d rather it be early.”
The Purple Knights needed a win to force a tiebreaker to determine the district championship.
“We just need to learn how to win close games like this,” Purple Knights coach Mitchell Johnson said.
Two weeks ago, St. Augustine squandered a 12-point lead in the final three minutes against East Jefferson before losing 52-51 at home.
This time, Preston played the hero. Teammate Curtiss Anderson added 11 points.
“I had a talk with him about being a leader,” said Wells, who scored 12 points. “If you want to be a leader, you have to show leadership.”
He kept his head together and we pulled it through.”