Taylor’s 26 leads Wildcats to opening victory

Published 11:45 pm Friday, November 22, 2013


LAPLACE – Da’Rae Taylor’s 26 points led the way for East St. John Thursday night in its opening game at the St. Amant tournament, the Wildcats toppling Northeast 42-35.
Jermani Thompson added seven and Kaneesha Brooks scored five as ESJ began its season with a win.
“Defensively, we played tough. Northeast has a lot of size and we did fairly well combating them on the boards,” said East St. John coach Jackson Manuel. “We hustled. I thought our guard play was the difference. We were able to pressure their guards into mistakes.”
The Wildcats (1-0) led 22-14 at halftime and kept Northeast at arm’s length throughout.
Manuel called the team’s returning backcourt of Taylor and Thompson the Wildcats’ strength.
“That’s the motor that runs this group,” said Manuel. “No question.”
Those two, along with Brooks and Crystal Kemp, are key returning players from last season’s rotation.
New faces this season include Dessiah Lawson, Alexis Stipe, Bria Thompson and Oriana Johnson.
Lawson has moved into the starting lineup after playing just JV ball last season, and Manuel said she is making great progress. Stipe was on the varsity last season but is now getting her chance.
Johnson is being mixed into the backcourt backing up Taylor and Jermani Thompson, and at times Manuel is playing the three together in a “small-ball” 3-guard alignment.
“We’re comfortable with the ball in her hands,” said Manuel. “When we play the three of them together, as she progresses, that can make us a little bit stronger.”
Manuel is excited about the prospects of Bria Thompson as well, a 6-foot-2-inch center.
“We’ve got high expectations for her,” said Manuel.
He said that the team will have to finish better at the rim than it did in its opener, estimating that the Ladycats left “20 points or so” on the floor through missed layups.
On a broader scale, he said that ESJ must curtail its turnover count this season.
“It’s a point of emphasis. We have to make every possession count,” said Manuel. “You aren’t doing that when you give the basketball back to the other team.”
East St. John was set to play host St. Amant at the second game of the Gators’ tournament on Friday.
The Wildcats return to action today at 3 p.m. to face Woodlawn at the tourney.