Defensive effort sends Trojans to Lafayette

Published 12:19 am Saturday, March 1, 2008

FERRIDAY — Ferriday coach K.G. Watkins just couldn’t contain himself.

The big man was stomping his feet, clapping and bellowing out “We’re going to the show!” over and over to anyone close enough to hear him.

But the generally calm Trojan coach could be forgiven. The defensive clinic his team put on in a 42-36 Class 2A tournament quarterfinal win over Episcopal to send Ferriday (27-7) to the LHSAA Top 28 Tournament at the Cajundome in Lafayette was enough to make anyone stand up and holler.

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“I was on pins and needles all day,” a jubilant Watkins said afterwards. “This team we played was ranked No. 3 by the coaches so we had to give them respect. I told the kids before the game we were just 32 minutes from going to the show and they did a hell of a job tonight.”

The game was a defensive struggle throughout, with Ferriday frustrating the Knights by not allowing Episcopal center Kendall Thomas to have looks inside.

Thomas finished the game with 10 points, but most of those came on offensive rebounds and putbacks.

“He (Thomas) is a beast,” Watkins said. “We knew they wanted to go inside and didn’t want to shoot outside shots, so we tried to take the inside away from them.”

Ferriday’s defensive strategy worked to perfection in the first half, as the Trojans didn’t allow any clean looks at the basket and took a 15-9 lead to the locker room at halftime.

“We were real sluggish in the first half,” Episcopal coach Chris Beckman said. “Once we started attacking more in the third quarter we got some good shots, but we could never get over the hump.”

Ferriday came out hot after halftime, and took its biggest lead of the game at 27-17 on two free throws by Matthew Smith with 2:25 remaining in the third quarter.

However, Episcopal would begin to get the ball inside to Thomas more and chipped away at the lead, cutting the deficit to just three points at 29-26 with 6:55 remaining in the game.

However, as he would do the entire game, Smith would make a huge play for the Trojans, converting a three-point play to put Ferriday back up six points.

Episcopal kept slugging away at the Trojans and trimmed the deficit to just two points at 37-35 with 1:25 remaining.

Episcopal had a chance to tie the game but Thomas’s shot was partially blocked and Ferriday’s Joshua Upchurch was fouled with 37.3 seconds left.

He made only one of the free throws, however, and Episcopal still had a chance to send the game to overtime.

But Knight point guard Nick Beirman lost the ball out of bounds with 26 seconds left.

Smith was fouled on the inbounds pass, but missed both free throws. However, Montrell Tennessee grabbed a huge offensive rebound and got the ball back to Smith who was fouled again. This time, the senior knocked down both his free throws to give Ferriday an insurmountable 40-35 lead with 17.4 seconds remaining.

“I was just thinking, go back to fundamentals,” Smith said. “I wanted to bend the knees and have a clear mind to shoot them.”

Smith finished with 23 points and was the only Trojan player to score more than five.

For Smith, the trip to Lafayette was a culmination of the hard work put in all year long.

“We practiced hard all summer and through football season for big games like this,” Smith said. “I’ve got to give it all to my coach.”

The tournament begins on March 3, but Smith doesn’t want to wait that long, as he exclaimed to his teammates in a postgame celebration.

“I want to go to Lafayette tonight!”