Top-seeded Natchitoches Central withstood a furious upset attempt from No. 17 seed Chalmette but pulled through with a 53-45 road victory Tuesday to advance to the Class 5A boys basketball quarterfinals.
“I’m just so proud of my guys with the way they came out and battled in the second half,” Natchitoches Central coach Micah Coleman said. “Second half, we came out and turned up the intensity.”
Natchitoches Central got off to a slow start: It did not score until past the halfway mark of the first quarter. But its defense kept Chalmette from running away with a big early lead, and it trailed just 11-9 at the end of the first period.
The teams traded leads most of the second period, and Natchitoches Central went in with a 25-24 lead at halftime thanks to a layup by Brian White as the quarter expired.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs went with a more conservative offensive game plan. They played keep-away with the ball to kill as much time as possible before attempting a shot. On one possession, Natchitoches Central managed to use almost 90 seconds before converting a successful layup.
It proved to be an effective strategy even with a slim lead.
“Between Brian White, Brandon Rachal and Marquis King, we put a lot of confidence in our guards,” Coleman said. “They never let us down. They’re very tough with the ball in their hands, and it forces you to foul or let us time go off the clock. We thought it was important at that time.”
The back-and-forth battle continued until midway through the third quarter. Natchitoches Central trailed 31-30 but scored six straight points to take a 36-31 lead. The Chiefs would never trail again.
Chalmette’s Mitchell Robinson was his usual self on defense for the Owls — he finished with seven blocks — but Natchitoches Central managed to hold him to just eight points.
Coleman credited senior forward Austin Guy for his defensive effort on Robinson.
“Austin’s obviously outsized down there,” Coleman said. “But you’re never going to out-heart Austin Guy.”
White and Rachal led the way for Natchitoches Central with 14 and 11 points. Blake Coker led Chalmette with 12 points, all in the first half.
Natchitoches Central will face No. 8 seed Bourgeois in the quarterfinals Friday.