ESJ marches on

Published 11:45 pm Friday, February 22, 2013



RESERVE — After consecutive St. Amant 3-pointers found the bottom of the net, East St. John trailed by five in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s Class 5A bi-district playoff game, its season facing a second consecutive abrupt end due to an upset.

Instead, freshman forward Troy Green played the hero.

Green scored 10 fourth quarter points and finished with 16 to lead the Wildcats to a 67-59 victory at Leon Godchaux Junior High gymnasium.

“Coach prepared us for this moment all season long,” said Green. “The hard work we put into this made us ready.”

ESJ (23-7) advanced and was set to host No. 9 Jesuit next in a regional round game. Jesuit defeated Central-Baton Rouge in the first round, 49-37. The regional was scheduled to be played Friday night, after press time.

East St. John entered as the No. 8 seed and St. Amant No. 25. But the Gators (19-13) proved to be a much tougher draw than those numbers indicated; St. Amant began the season with a 15-2 record before injuries derailed their hot start, and the Gators fell in 10 of their final 14 games.

But St. Amant’s rotation was back to full strength for Tuesday, including its five senior starters.

“We got healthy in the last two weeks,” said St. Amant coach Gary Duhe. “We’ve got a good group, but we’re just small.”

Elex Carter was one basket away from a double-double, finishing with eight points, 15 rebounds and two blocks.

The 6-foot-7 senior center has been playing through personal tragedy after the recent death of his father. But Carter said that the basketball court, alongside his teammates, was where he wanted to be.

“This is my comfort zone,” said Carter. “It feels great to know that the guys have my back. They’ve got the same goals that I have.”

Said Green, “We did it for Elex. We want to get him a championship.”

East St. John led for much of the third quarter but could never seem to put the Gators away; the Wildcats took a 44-43 lead into the fourth before the Gators made their big move. Donald LeBlanc found Jonovan Lewis for a layup to give St. Amant a 45-44 lead. Then DeQuincy Deverteuil sank a 3-pointer to extend the lead to four. Edwin Winston answered for ESJ with a post basket, but Dominique Wilmore fired back at the other end for 3 from the corner to make it 51-46.

“We didn’t crack,” said Green.

Green scored a layup in transition to cut the lead to three, then St. Amant turned the ball over on an inbounds violation with 4:58 left. Monterio Cage hit Tre’Von Jasmine for a bucket on the ensuing inbounds pass and the lead was down to one.

Mason Clouarte missed the front end of a one and one, and Green drew a foul. He sank two free throws to push ESJ ahead by one with 3:41 left. Lewis made a layup to take the advantage back for St. Amant, but Green put back a miss to make it 54-53 ESJ.

With the score tied at 54, Green combined with Raekwon McKnight to finally create some separation for the Wildcats — McKnight dished to an open Green for a layup, then did it again off of a steal from Jasmine to make it 58-54. After a Wildcats defensive stop, McKnight missed a shot that would have made the lead six, but Carter grabbed the offensive rebound. McKnight went on to draw a foul and extend the lead to five at the line.

With under a minute left, East St. John drew fouls and took care of the ball. The Wildcats allowed no more made field goals in the game.

ESJ closed the game with three reserves on the floor in Green, Cage and McKnight.

“A couple of those guys started for us earlier this year. We’ve really got seven starters. We kind of cheat on that,” said ESJ coach Yussef Jasmine. “We lost 10 people from last year’s team, but this group is just like, ‘Who cares about that? Let’s play.’”

Tre’Von Jasmine scored 14 for ESJ. McKnight added 10.

The game’s start was delayed for just over 10 minutes due to a challenge from Duhe on the viability of Godchaux to host the game — Duhe questioned the distance between the team benches and the court which, by rule, must be three feet.

ESJ has played its home schedule at Godchaux after Hurricane Issac flooded its on-campus gym.

“I was worried about someone getting hurt. It’s nothing against East St. John,” said Duhe. “Once the LHSAA said ‘Go play,’ that’s what we did.”

But be it his team’s old gymnasium or Godchaux — where the Wildcats have yet to lose — Green says it doesn’t matter where the ball is tipped.

“We’ll play outside if we have to,” said Green.