They spent nearly the entire fourth quarter in pursuit of the lead when Catholic High finally obtained it with nine seconds left on Toliver Freeman’s free throws.
Then in the blink of an eye the short-lived lead was gone and the No. 12 Bears season over.
Ruston’s Tykeem Anderson drove in for a layup with 3.7 seconds left and the No. 21 Bearcats withstood a strong 75-foot attempt from Freeman at the buzzer for a 42-41 upset victory Friday in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
“Toliver did a great job of making that extra free throw,” Catholic coach Mark Cascio said. “We had a foul to give and that’s how we were trying to play that last possession. We told them to go for a hard steal and the ball kind of spurted loose, so we didn’t get the foul call.”
Ruston called its final timeout in between Freeman’s two free throws to set up the final sequence.
“I told (Isaiah) Buggs to run to the front of the rim and the other guys to get out of the way so we would have driving lanes,” said Ruston coach Bakari Beckwith, a former coach at Zachary. “(Anderson) got lucky when they tried to double team him, the ball bounced right back to him. He attacked the rim and made the basket.”
Ruston (19-8) advanced to host District 2-5A rival Ouachita, a 79-68 winner over Zachary, in Tuesday’s regional round.
Anderson led the Bearcats with 15 while Buggs, a rugged center, added 13.
An 8-1 run from Catholic (21-8) during a two-minute stretch of the fourth quarter erased a 37-30 deficit and tied the game at 38-all with 1:35 to play.
Guard Ethan Treigle scored on consecutive baskets, taking a back-door pass from Michael Giorlando for a lay-in, and drove in for the fourth tie of game with his 10th point, placing the Bears on the brink of their first playoff win in five years.
Terrance Dodson’s tough drive in traffic enabled Ruston to regain the lead before Freeman made a free throw and hustled near the corner for a steal after missing his second attempt, drawing a foul.
Freeman, who scored 11 of his game-high 18 in the first half, made both of his tries to give Catholic’s its first lead in more than nine minutes.
Despite Anderson’s heroics Freeman had the presence of mind to fire up a desperation 3-pointer that was on line but kicked off the left side of the rim.
Ruston held a 31-30 lead going into the fourth quarter when it rattled off three straight inside baskets for its largest lead (37-30) when Catholic came out of its 2-3 zone to challenge on the perimeter.
After being held scoreless since halftime Freeman rejuvenated his team’s chances down the stretch with seven points, five of which came on free throws.
“It’s a (bad) way to lose,” Cascio said. “To have that (ending) and to battle back. We didn’t feel like we had it won by any means. I’m very proud of our guys.
“We put ourselves in a situation to really clinch it and we didn’t. Credit to Ruston for making a really great play at the buzzer.”