GONZALES — East Ascension had the home-court advantage, but McKinley was where it wanted to be — playing basketball and concentrating on its game plan.
After a tumultuous week that saw Panthers’ assistant coach Marcus Williams elevated to head coach after head coach Harold Boudreaux and assistant coach Raeshawn Williams were relieved of their coaching duties, McKinley seemed unaffected as it remained undefeated in District 5-5A with a 58-40 win over the Spartans.
For McKinley (15-8, 4-0), just stepping onto the court provided a comfortable escape.
“It’s business for us,” Marcus Williams said of McKinley’s focus. “We had a mission in mind after the nondistrict schedule. We had a game plan, and when we’re between the lines on the court we block everything else out.”
The game was tied 19-19 at halftime, but McKinley pulled away thanks to the scoring of Tyrece Radford and the defense of Nick Wiggins. Radford scored 12 of his game-high 16 points in the second half. Wiggins pitched in with four blocks and 11 points.
“We pulled together with the coaches as a team. It’s family,” Wiggins said. “We came together and put our minds to it. We want to win district and make the playoffs. We want to shock the world.”
East Ascension (22-5, 3-1) came into the game as the sixth-rated Class 5A team in the LHSAA’s unofficial power rankings.
The Spartans played without guard LeAaron Cain, who was nursing a pulled hamstring, but appeared to be missing more than his presence.
“We did not play with any emotion,” EAHS coach Barry Whittington said. “The game just happened to us. We didn’t play the game. The way we lost this game, this is a top three disappointment as far as coaching goes.”
The Spartans were led by Bilal Frank with 14 points and Koye Ruffin with 12.
McKinley began the game tentatively, and missed its first nine shots while falling behind 7-0. Radford finally got the Panthers on the board with a driving basket with three minutes left in the first quarter.
The score started a tear for McKinley, which made 9 of 17 from the field the rest of the half. Marcus Coleman, who finished with 12 points, hit a 3-pointer helping the Panthers close to within 10-9 after one quarter.
A pair of inside baskets by Wiggins helped McKinley take a 17-12 lead. The Spartans took advantage of five McKinley turnovers as they evened the score at halftime.
In the third quarter, McKinley led 26-23 midway through. Radford’s three-point play and another 3-pointer by Coleman sparked the Panthers to a 37-28 lead entering the fourth.
Wiggins had two blocks and an inside basket helping McKinley expand its lead to 47-31. The Panthers then made 10 of 12 free throws in the final five minutes, and never let East Ascension get closer than 14 points.
A road win against one of the top teams in district might be McKinley’s best win so far, but Williams said the Panthers are capable of more.
“I wouldn’t call this an upset,” he said. “It was a great game, and we got the result we were hoping for. We wanted to come out of this game undefeated in district, but we’ve still got a lot of work left to do.”