The streak is over.
The St. Paul’s basketball team had won 31 consecutive games, with their only loss of the season coming with a short-handed team in the season opener.
On Tuesday night in a Class 5A regional playoff against East Ascension, the Wolves met their match.
East Ascension, the 13th seed, ran out to a 13-point halftime lead and survived a furious comeback by fourth-ranked St. Paul’s. The Spartans wound up with a 71-68 win at St. Paul’s in Covington.
East Ascension (29-6) advanced to the quarterfinals and will play the winner of fifth seeded Ruston and 21st seeded Central Lafourche on Friday.
St. Paul’s (31-2) had a chance to win when they inbounded the ball under the Spartans’ basket with 6.4 seconds remaining. But East Ascension’s Jimel London stole the ball and laid it up as the final buzzer sounded.
“I just had to be up and try to close the game,” London said.
Le’Aaron Cain was a force; scoring 34 points. He totaled 14 of the Spartans 17 points in the first quarter, and his steal and layup with 2:11 remaining in the first made the score 14-13 East Ascension. The visitors didn’t trail from that point.
Cain kept it up in the second quarter; canning a trio of fall-away 3-pointers from around the arc midway through the period. The junior guard finished with 25 points in the half, and East Ascension led 38-25 at the break.
Pressure defense by the Spartans contributed to the lopsided half. St. Paul’s committed 11 turnovers before halftime, and St. Paul’s made 10-of-26 shots (38 percent) from the field in that time. East Ascension made 15-of-31 shots (48 percent) shots in the first two quarters.
In the third quarter, Bilal Frank took over where Cain left off. The senior guard scored eight of his 12 points in the first four minutes of the half, and kept St. Paul’s swinging from an 8 to 10-point deficit. A late rally got the Wolves to within seven points, 54-47, at the end of the third. Parker Edwards led that charge with nine of 16 points in the third.
St. Paul’s began pressing East Ascension, and was able to chip away into the once-substantial lead. The Wolves never could get ahead, however, and the Spartans did enough for the win down the stretch.
Cain, who averages 20 points per game, had six points in the crucial final quarter. London scored seven of his 11 points in the final period.
“We’re such a young team, we finally learned how to close it out,” said East Ascension coach Barry Whittington. “We lost to Plaquemine at the end of the game, and we lost to McKinley to something similar to how we just won this one. I’m excited for this young team. ”
St. Paul’s coach Phil Williams said the early deficit was critical, and playing from behind was difficult against an aggressive East Ascension team.
“We were pretty good (this year,) against zone pressure, but man-to-man gave us problems,” he said. “Acadiana gave us some fits last week, and we knew these guys would be as good, if not better. Which they were. The difference was they kept attacking the rim. We were a bit tentative in the first (half.) But without a doubt, this is a great group of guys.”
Skyler Herbet also scored 16 points for St. Paul’s. Harrison Prieto added 13 and Devonte Allen had 11.