McKinley High went big-game hunting this week and plucked off District 5-5A’s top two targets.
Consequently, the Panthers not only altered the league’s hierarchy but enhanced their once long odds of getting into championship picture.
Three days after knocking off co-leader St. Amant by a point in the final seconds, McKinley responded with a complete-game effort that resulted in a 53-49 road win Friday over Catholic High.
“That’s definitely a blessing,” McKinley coach Marvin Dotson said. “I knew going into this thing District 5-5A was one of those type district where on any given night anything can happen. It was unfortunate for us we got flat at a bad time of the season. We played a lot of big games early on and I think it took a toll on our guys mentally.”
Catholic (19-6, 6-2) dropped back into a tie with St. Amant (19-10, 6-2) for the district’s lead. The Gators defeated Woodlawn, 62-37, on Friday.
McKinley (18-13, 5-3) reversed an earlier two-point loss to Catholic with balanced scoring that was equal parts perimeter in the first half (4 of the team’s 7 3-pointers) and interior in the second. Forward Keion Brown led the Panthers with 12 points with guard Russell Daniels adding 10 with contributions from four other players ranging from six to eight points.
“We emphasized getting off to a good start,” said Dotson, whose team led 27-25 at halftime. “We knew they were going to shoot the ball. At our place they shot the ball lights out. The difference then was we didn’t shoot as well. Tonight we got going early and were fortunate to get some shots to fall early and I think it made the difference at the end of the game.”
The tightly-contested game, which featured 10 lead changes and was tied seven times, hinged on the final three minutes of play when center Keeyon Smart, a Tulane football signee, gave McKinley the lead for good at 51-49 with 1:16 to play.
Brown kept the possession afloat, saving the ball from going out of bounds to guard Kyle Woods, who immediately found Smart for a lay-in and 51-49 lead.
Daniels made it 52-49 with another free throw, leading Catholic to take a timeout but the Bears turned the ball over and fouled Brown, who accounted for the final score with a free throw with 18.7 seconds to go.
Catholic, which shot 50 percent for the game on only 34 attempts, didn’t make a field goal in the final three-plus minutes with two free throws from Toliver Freeman with 2:25 showing serving as their final points.
Freeman led all scorers with 22 points with Ethan Treigle adding 14. They combined for seven of the Bears’ eight 3-pointers.
“When we counter-punched it was very short lived,” Catholic coach Mark Cascio said. “They did a very good job of answering every time we had a run in us. Down the stretch it’s tough to be down to a team like that where they’re getting good shots a lot easier than we are.”