St. Augustine fights off Brother Martin to reach Division I boys basketball final
LAKE CHARLES – It had the feel of a glorified district game as No. 2 St. Augustine and No. 6 Brother Martin met for the fourth time this season at Burton Coliseum Thursday morning.
After all, there are no two basketball programs in Louisiana that no each other better than the Purple Knights and Crusaders, who were meeting for at least the third time in a season for the sixth time in 10 years.
This time around, much more was at stake for the Gentilly neighbors and Catholic League rivals.
While the location was different, the outcome was not as the Purple Knights overcame the pesky Crusaders 42-40 in the Division I semifinals, completing a four game sweep of Brother Martin this season.
St. Augustine pounded Brother Martin 43-26 on the boards, including 20 offensive rebounds and the Purple Knights overcame a poor first half shooting performance against a surprising defensive look from the Crusaders to advance.
“It was a tough game,” St. Augustine coach Mitchell Johnson said. “They did a great job of disrupting what we wanted to do early on. We were able to get some stops, some multiple stops and we got in a rhythm. I expected them to play zone because that’s what they did last time we played them here.”
Johnson was pleased with the rebound edge but wanted more from it.
“That was the goal, to put a body on someone but we’ve got to finish better and do a better job of getting loose balls, too! We went into halftime and tried to make some adjustments. We were able to use our experience and make plays down the stretch when we needed it. I can’t tell you what I told them at halftime. I ain’t saying that!”
Both teams mixed defenses in the first quarter and each side’s familiarity with the other was evident with the strong defensive effort on both ends. There were three lead changes and St. Augustine took a 6-5 lead by the end of the period.
St. Augustine continued its scoring drought, which lasted over seven minutes, into the second quarter against a 2-2-1 defense by Brother Martin, the first time the Crusaders utilized that defensive look all season.
Brother Martin scored the first four points of the second quarter to take a 9-6 lead and scored the final four points in the half to take a 16-13 lead into the break. T.J. Small had eight points while Dillon Delatte added seven in the half for Brother Martin.
“We played an untraditional defense most of the first half and I think they struggled with it but they made an adjustment,” Brother Martin coach Chris Biehl said. “Coach Johnson and his staff are second to none. Every year, St. Aug’s here and they are not here because of talent alone, they are here because they have some of the best coaches around. They are beating us because of our turnovers.”
Brother Martin shot 22 percent from the field (5 of 22) while St. Augustine shot just 20 percent (3 of 15) in the half.
The Purple Knights awakened in the third quarter behind Devon Jefferson, who scored nine in the period. Trailing 24-15, St. Augustine went on a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to 24-21 and closed the quarter on a decisive 9-0 run to take a 30-26 lead going to the final quarter. St. Aug would not trail again.
Brother Martin closed to within 31-29 but got no closer until Javier Perez hit a 3-pointer as time expired to close the final margin to two points.
Jefferson led St. Augustine (30-4) with 15 points, five rebounds and three steals. Damon Landry had nine points and D’Mari Wiltz finished with seven points and four assists.
“It was very frustrating in the first half,” Jefferson said. “It felt good to get going in the third quarter and we were able to get some stops.”
Small led Brother Martin (20-18) with 14 points and three steals while Delatte had 13 points and six rebounds. Tomlinson had eight points and four rebounds.
St. Augustine held Brother Martin to just 25 percent shooting from the field (9 of 36). Each team committed 19 turnovers.
“I can’t ask these boys to give us any more than they did,” Biehl said. “It was a roller coaster year, probably one of the toughest seasons that we’ve ever experienced. We went through a period where we lost seven straight games. We could have quit, we could have folded it in but you saw what these boys are made of and we are proud of them.”
St. Augustine advances to the state title game for the first time since 2012 to take on the winner of No. 1 Scotlandville and No. 5 Catholic of Baton Rouge Saturday at noon. The Purple Knights will be looking for their first state championship since 2011 and their sixth overall in school history. It is the first game for Johnson as head coach at St. Aug in his seventh year.
“I’ve been there (finals) as an assistant coach but this is my first time as a head coach,” Johnson said. “I won one as a player but it’s a different feeling as the person in charge when you lead a team to a championship game. No matter who we play, it will be a very well coached team and a tough challenge.”
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