Despite coaching changes, acting McKinley basketball coach Marcus Williams says Panthers focused on next game — at East Ascension _lowres

Advocate staff photo by APRIL BUFFINGTON -- McKinley's Tyrece Radford goes to the basket between Southern Lab's Bladrick Veal, left, and Azahren Ernest in the Hall of Fame Basketball Classic on Jan. 16 at the F.G. Clark Activity Center.

Despite the tumult going on around them, acting McKinley basketball coach Marcus Williams said the Panthers’ ability to focus on the task at hand has allowed them to find peace on the court.

“We’ve always focused on the lines of the court and the gym as a sanctuary,” Williams said. “What happens between those lines is business, and we don’t let anything get in the way of that.”

Williams is tasked with leading McKinley for the remainder of the season after head coach Harold Boudreaux and assistant Raeshawn Williams were relieved of their coaching duties.

The first opportunity for Williams to coach in a varsity game takes place at 7:15 p.m. Friday with plenty at stake. McKinley (14-8) visits East Ascension (22-4) in a District 5-5A matchup of 3-0 teams.

“They’re going to come in no matter who the coach is, and you’re not going to be able to walk over them,” EA coach Barry Whittington said. “Anytime I’ve played or coached against McKinley, I know those kids are going to play hard and give it 110 percent, whether they’re underdogs or not.”

There’s been no greater example of McKinley’s resolve over the past two weeks than when Boudreaux was first placed on administrative leave. He was subsequently relieved of his duties, along with Raeshawn Williams earlier this week.

The Panthers are riding a four-game win streak, including an average margin of victory of 26 points over their past three district games.

“We played a challenging nondistrict schedule, and that was a good test for us,” said Williams who will be assisted by former McKinley football coach Robert Signater. “It was a trial by fire, and we lost some games, but it kind of sharpened us. Everybody’s coming together. We feel like a unit right now.”

Williams said that while senior guard Russell Daniels and sophomore guard Tyrese Radford are averaging double figures in scoring the Panthers are also getting key contributions from post players A.J. Lee and Josh Quiett.

“It’s been a collective effort that’s come together,” Williams said. “They’re on the same page.”

EA hasn’t allowed the fact they’re playing with one senior — forward Bilal Frank — to deter them from a stellar season.

The Spartans only losses have come at the hands of University, West Jefferson (only loss at home this year), Riverside and Plaquemine.

“We have the pieces, but we haven’t put all the pieces of the puzzle together to make a beautiful picture,” Whittington said. “It’s a great thing to be where we are compared to where we were a year ago at this point.”

Junior guards LeAaron Cain and Koye Ruffin top EA in scoring at 20.1 and 17.0, with sophomore point guard Jimel London adding 10 and Frank 8.4.

“McKinley kids are prideful, will play hard and will be a tough team,” Whittington said. “I’m kind of looking forward to see how we’re going to respond to the adversity that’s going to come throughout the game.”