NEW IBERIA — New Iberia pounced on Lafayette High in overtime to take a 55-48 win at home Friday in a showdown of two of the state's top-rated squads.
The victory by the Yellow Jackets, ranked No. 3 in the LHSAA's Class 5A power ratings, created a three-way tie for first place in District 3-5A with one week remaining in the regular season.
NISH (23-4), No. 7 Lafayette (22-4) and No. 6 Comeaux (21-6) are 4-1 in league play.
After the game was tied at 43-all at the end of regulation, NISH took control by sinking 10-of-10 free throws in overtime.
Senior point guard Stiles Jolivet scored 8 of his 13 points in overtime and drained six free throws.
"We go as Stiles Jolivet goes," NISH coach Todd Russ said. "Everything that happens with NISH is going to happen with No. 2.
"He may not score in bunches, but he leads and I challenge him to lead. I demand that he leads. He's accepted that role."
Junior Jaterrius Fusilier had 25 points to lead the Yellow Jackets.
"I've been around basketball a long time," Russ said. "Jaterrius Fusilier can be as good as anyone I've coached when he decides that he wants to. Sometimes young players get in their own way, and I'm not the easiest coach to play for.
"I'm very demanding on both sides of the ball. Jaterrius has some talent, and I'm going to tell you another guy that has some talent and that's Allen Walker. Those two guys can be a matchup problem every night if they so choose."
Lafayette, which got 27 points from Bentravin Phillips, held a 20-13 lead late in the second quarter before 6-foot-7 center Corey Dunning went to the bench after picking up his third foul.
The Yellow Jackets then poured in five quick points on a 3-pointer by Aaron Mandeville and a layup by Fusilier to close within 20-18 at halftime.
"We have some guys who can flat-out shoot it," Russ said. "But I don't know, man. Maybe my approach to them is sometimes not the friendliest or nicest. Mandeville can come off the bench and score.
"Brennan Chatman tonight could not bang one in, but the other night when we played Madison Prep, he hit four 3-pointers and the game-winner."
Russ said the strong finish in the second quarter provided a much-needed spark.
"I think that sequence was a big difference in the game because if we didn't get that, we're down by seven or more," he said. "In the first half, I thought we were stuck. We were down seven if I'm not mistaken.
"Then Mandeville hit a huge 3 when Dunning picked up his third foul. Usually, you want to wait for the last shot, but with their big kid off the court, I decided to push it. I felt that we had to get some tempo going. Fortunately for us, he knocked down a huge 3-point shot with confidence."
NISH racked up 18 points at the free-throw line.
"I wish we'd had that against Comeaux," Russ said. "Against Comeaux down the stretch, we were 2-of-9 from the line. But those guys are resilient. They got in here and worked on their free throws. They never lost confidence. I didn't lose confidence in them, and that's what you have to do.
"Stiles didn't shy away from the moment, and we rode Jaterrius tonight. He stepped up big on both sides of the ball. That was good to make some free throws and see that ball go through the net."
Dunning, who finished with eight points, fouled out with 59.8 seconds remaining in OT.
"My kids gave an unbelievable effort to be down like we were in the fourth quarter and take it to overtime," Lions coach Clifton Brown said.
NISH was nursing a 40-32 lead midway through the fourth quarter before an 11-3 run by the Lions evened the score.
Dunning hit two free throws and added a reverse layup to send the game into overtime.
"That showed a lot," Brown said. "But they were able to make some plays in overtime, and we didn't.
"They did a good job of converting their free throws. That was a key factor. My big guy getting in foul trouble didn't help, but he did a good job staying in the game for the most part. Overall, I thought we came up a little short, but we're going to bounce back."
Although Jolivet was held scoreless in the first half and had only two points heading into the fourth quarter, he wasn't frustrated.
"It wasn't coming for me during the whole game, but my teammates kept believing in me," he said. "When it was time, I got to turn it on.
"It's a process, and I trust the process. I let the game come to me. I don't force anything. This win, it means a lot because we work so hard."