MONROE — The Class 2A girls basketball title game was a lot like a piece of abstract art. The beauty was in the eye of the beholder.
It was a fabulous view for St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Falcons battled their way to a 49-42 victory over John Curtis in the game that opened Saturday’s action at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association/State Farm Top 28 Tournament.
Title-game Outstanding Player Amber Donnes scored a team-high 14 points, but also limited Curtis’ Kolby Morgan to six points in the final half of the game played at the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum. Morgan finished with a game-high 16 points.
“We work together and it’s pretty awesome that we achieved (a state title),” Donnes said.
It was STA’s second title in four years. The Hammond-based school also won the 2A crown in 2010.
And the Falcons did it their way by forcing the tempo, playing intense defense and crashing the boards.
The strategy came with some costs. St. Thomas Aquinas forced 27 turnovers, but also had 20. The Falcons made just 26.8 percent of their shots (15 of 56) from the field, compared to 33.3 percent for Curtis (16-of-48).
When asked how his team could win a game with a low shooting percentage, St. Thomas Aquinas coach John White said, “with heart.”
“The thing that hurts pressure defenses are run and jump teams with good ballhandlers and (the Patriots) had two of them (in Morgan and Tia Charles),” White said. “We were willing to give up the long pass to get the ball out of their hands.
“The pace was great for us. (STA players) like to run. … It’s organized chaos out there. At the end we slowed the ball down. You do that with a senior bunch, a bunch with 29 wins. The fourth quarter these girls performed.”
STA excelled at the free-throw line, making 13 of 18 for 72.2 percent, including all 10 of its free throws in the final quarter.
The Falcons held the ball, forcing Curtis to foul. Getting 32 points off turnovers, compared to 20 for Curtis, also was huge.
Donnes, normally a high percentage shooter, was 4 of 18. On the flip side, she helped limit Morgan to 6-of-21 shooting. Charles, who added 11 for Curtis, was the only other double-figures scorer.
Curtis led briefly in the first quarter before St. Thomas Aquinas seized control. STA led by as much as seven points and took a 15-10 lead into the second quarter.
Morgan, the sister of LSU player Malik Morgan, played a big role as Curtis scored seven of nine points to open the second quarter. She drove coast-to-coast for a layup that made it 17-17 with 4:26 left in the half.
A basket by Charles put Curtis ahead 19-17 seconds later. The Patriots led by as much four points, but STA turned the tables with Meg Gambel hitting two 3-pointers 38 seconds apart to help the Falcons take a 25-22 halftime lead.
“I realized (Morgan) had been getting to the goal way too much, and I was tired of it,” Donnes said. “I was ready to stop her.”
Curtis tied the game at 31-31 with 4:47 to go in the third quarter on a layup by Charles off a turnover. But St. Thomas Aquinas closed out the quarter on a 8-3 run and led 39-34 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Patriots got within 41-40 on a drive around the defense with 4:26 left in the game. But STA closed out the game with eight more free throws, including four by Donnes.
“I want to say congratulations to St. Thomas Aquinas,” Curtis coach Barbara Farris said. “They played a hell of a game and pulled out that win. I couldn’t be prouder of my team.
“We didn’t do enough in the end, but we played hard. They left it all out there.”