Poised reserve Nate Cox delivered key baskets in St. Thomas More’s quarterfinal win over Plaquemine _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- St. Thomas More coach Danny Broussard watches the Cougars' Nate Cox during Tuesday's practice.

Given the gravity of the moment, St. Thomas More’s reserve forward Nate Cox was amazed by his relative calm.

With St. Thomas More trailing Plaquemine by eight points amid its raucous home crowd with 1:26 to go, the Cougars were officially on the ropes.

STM’s plight grew dimmer by the moment with only one field goal through nearly six minutes of the final quarter. To compound matters, leading scorer Devante’ Benjamin would foul out with 18.3 seconds remaining.

That’s what made STM’s comeback in a 53-52 overtime Class 4A quarterfinal victory against Plaquemine appear all the more improbable if not for Cox’s career-high 12 points on four 3-pointers.

“He should have more minutes, and when I put him in he’s gives us good, quality minutes,” STM coach Danny Broussard said. “The other night showed why. That was his moment to shine.”

It was Cox, who in part, helped keep No. 1 STM’s season alive and enabled the Cougars (33-7) to reach the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Boys Top 28 Tournament against No. 4 Bossier (25-10).

The Class 4A state semifinal is scheduled for at 1 p.m. Thursday at McNeese State’s Burton Coliseum.

“My role this season has been to come off the bench, rebound and knock down a few shots,” said Cox, who averages 4.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and shoots 35 percent from 3-point range for the year. “But that was the highlight of my career so far.”

Cox, the grandson of then-USL (Louisiana-Lafayette) basketball assistant Tom Cox, was halfway to a memorable game with six points by halftime with a 3-pointer in each of the first two quarters. The first one gave the Cougars their initial lead, while the second tied the score at 17 midway through the quarter.

Cox offset a 3-pointer from Plaquemine with another of his own with just under a minute to play in the third quarter. Benjamin followed with a driving layup that left STM trailing 38-37 going into the fourth quarter.

STM, which missed its first six shots of the final quarter, didn’t appear it was going to make up sufficient ground on Plaquemine’s 50-42 lead with 1:26 showing.

Then came a ray of hope when guard Jonathan Cisse spotted a wide-open Cox at the top of the key. Instead of possibly yielding to the pressure with his team trailing by its second-largest deficit, the slender 6-foot-6 junior made his final 3-pointer to make it 50-45 with 65 seconds to go.

“I knew to just catch it and shoot it because I was feeling confident and knocked it down,” Cox said. “I was surprisingly calm. I’m the one to get a little nervous. I was just in the moment and wasn’t really nervous at all.”

Said Broussard of Cox, “He kept us in that game and helped us win.”

That sparked an 8-0 run by STM to close regulation play. The Cougars also benefitted from 1-of-8 free-throw shooting from Plaquemine. A contested layup with 2.2 seconds left from guard Jonathan Joseph sent the game into overtime.

Each team scored a field goal before STM spread the floor, worked the clock when guard Jude Joseph found William Vincent, who was fouled and made a go-ahead free throw with 1.7 seconds left.

“I haven’t come close to anything like that before,” said Cox, who added eight rebounds, a steal and took a charge against Plaquemine. “I’m not really sure what happened in the fourth quarter. A lot of stuff happened so fast. It was crazy.”