By Bobby Ardoin
Exclusive to the Times
OPELOUSAS – Handling pressure defenses has been problematic for the St. Mary’s boys’ basketball much of this season and on Friday night that issue was again evident.
The fifth-seeded Tigers committed 31 turnovers with 11 of those in the fourth quarter, as St. Mary’s ended the season with a 75-68 Division IV quarterfinal defeat in the Opelousas Catholic gym.
St. Mary’s head coach Thomas Collins said maintaining possessions has been difficult. Collins added that he anticipated a struggle against an OC defense that often used turnovers to create points.
“It’s been a weakness we’ve had and coming into (the OC game) I knew it could be a problem. We lost seven players from last year and we’ve played this season with sophomores and freshmen.
“I thought we faced a team (Friday night) that did a good job of playing defense and altering some of the things that we do.
“During the course of the season from where we started, I think we really came a long way,” said Collins, who completed his first season as the Tigers’ boys’ basketball coach.
The Tigers, who were accompanied by a large crowd from Natchitoches, built a 62-60 lead entering the fourth quarter, but St. Mary’s was held to only six points during the final eight minutes.
Most of St. Mary’s late-game scoring problems included failing to move the ball down court without preventing a turnover.
OC meanwhile edged to a 70-66 advantage with 4:34 remaining on a Donovan Green attempt he converted off a loose rebound.
While the Tigers were having ball possession difficulties, OC had its own problems from the free throw line during the final two minutes.
The Vikings sank only five of their last 12 attempts from the line, but No. 4 OC retained the lead after preventing St. Mary’s from scoring during the final 1:50.
Collins said his team never took advantage of the Vikings’ free throwing inaccuracy.
“We got that lead on them in the third quarter and then they gave us a chance, but we turned it over,” Collins added.
Vikings’ basketball coach Jeff Dupre said he thought ultimately the difference was his team’s defense.
“What we tried to do the whole game was put pressure and then more pressure. We knew who we had to stop in order to win and we made adjustments to accomplish that as the game went on.
“We knew that both (Thomas Howell and Parker Bankston) were good players and what they did supported our opinion about that,” said Dupre.
St. Mary’s inside-outside combination of Howell, a 6-foot-5 center and Bankston provided a collaborative 46 points. Howell muscled his way around the basketball offensively and defensively, blocking four shots while providing offensive and defensive rebounding.
Bankston sank four of his six three balls during the first quarter. He opened the game with two consecutive treys and added another pair before the Vikings assigned guards Keon Coleman and Ronal Patin to guard Bankston in a man defense, while the remainder of the OC defense sagged inside to impede Howell’s effectiveness.
“They (OC) went into a box and left the other guys to do the job defensively,” Collins said.
The Tigers experienced eight first quarter turnovers, but that matter was offset by the Vikings’ shooting difficulties. OC made only nine of 22 field goal attempts, but Green’s work underneath and a pair of three’s by Patin helped the Vikings to a slender lead (24-20).
Coleman’s dunk off a turnover with 6:26 before halftime enabled OC to separate somewhat (29-22) midway through the second. Howell however took control for the Tigers, with seven points during the period including a three-pointer with 3:34 left.
St. Mary’s closed within two but the Tigers never did claim an advantage as OC led at halftime (45-40).
The Tigers made their most serious run in the third as Howell, who had a team-leading 24 points, moved freely inside. Howell scored four of the Tigers’ first six points in the quarter and his jumper with 5:36 left gave St. Mary’s a 47-45 lead.
Leads were swapped four times after that as Bankston sent the Tigers into the fourth with the two-point lead after swishing his final three-point attempt.
DIVISION IV QUARTERFINAL PLAYOFF
St. Mary’s 20-20-22-6 _ 68
Opelousas Catholic 24-21-15-15 _ 75
Leading scorers – St. Mary’s: Thomas Howell 24, Parker Bankston 22, Paul Messenger 5, Dane Files 4, Triston Mitchell 4, Damon LeGrande 1. Opelousas Catholic: Ronal Patin 28, Keon Coleman 17, Devin Thierry 11, Donovan Green 11, Matt Courville 4, James Monroe 4.
3-point shots – St. Mary’s 9 (Bankston 6, Howell, Files, Messenger 1 each) OC 5 (Patin 3, Thierry 2).
Records: St. Mary’s 21-10. OC 23-7