No. 2 St. Augustine was within striking distance at halftime, but was unable to catch up to No. 1 Scotlandville in the second half of the Division I championship game at the LHSAA Marsh Madness state tournament Saturday and lost 73-53.
Experience proved to be crucial. St. Augustine (30-5) was playing in its first state championship since 2012, while Scotlandville (34-2) made its 10th-consecutive appearance and won its third in a row and sixth in eight years.
“Scotlandville is a well-coached team Coach (Carlos Sample) has done a great job and we have been battling for a few years now,” St. Augustine coach Mitchell Johnson said. “Their experience being in the finals got them through what they needed to get through today.
“I am very proud of my guys. They did a hell of a job getting us to this point and I am very proud of my senior group. This is my first senior group that actually got me to a state championship game. It is a tough loss, but I am glad we competed and didn’t give up.”
St. Augustine was able to control the paint with 32 points and out-rebounded Scotlandville 30-25, but struggled from the outside going just 4 of 11 from 3-point range. Scotlandville shot 53.3 percent for the game and was deadly from 3-point range, going 9 for 16.
“We had to try some different things and they made the shot they needed to make,” Johnson said. “It is frustrating when you know you can defend a lot better then what you did today. It is hard to really express how we feel as a unit right now.”
In his final game for St. Augustine, senior Devon Jefferson led with 12 points while fellow senior Jalvin Mitchell scored 10 points with seven rebounds and blocked three shots.
“We made it to where we wanted to be, but we didn’t get the job done,” Jefferson said. “I am pretty sure the juniors and the sophomores next year will get it done for us.”
St. Augustine didn’t allow more than 44 points in its first two playoff games but struggled to contain Hornet junior guards Reece Beekman and Tai’reon Joseph, who combined for 54 points. Reece was named the Division I finals MVP after scoring 28 points with six rebounds, nine assists and three steals. Joseph finished with 26 points.
“It is not difficult, he (Beekman) is just a real good basketball player,” Johnson said. “That is the reason why he got an offer from Kansas and all these other schools.
“That is the reason why he is one of the top players in the state. There is no secret about it; our goal was to try and wear him down and contain Joseph and Carvell Teaseet. We did a great job on everybody else, but Beekman and Joseph just had a great game tonight.”
With Scotlandville threatening to pull away at the end of the first half, D’Mari Wiltz, who scored 11 points, banked in a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the Hornets lead to 32-27 at the break.
St. Augustine was still down just five after a bucket by Mitchell under the goal with 4:46 left in the third quarter, but the Hornets outscored them 18-8 over the next 6:45.
“We kind of have some blown assignments and we just stopped trying to find way to get stops and ways to make plays,” Johnson said. “We were trying to double-team and take the ball out of Reese’s, but he was able to shoot over or make the pass.
“We came out with a little energy (in the second half), but once again they (Scotlandville) were able to make the plays they needed to make. The experience of those guys came out in the second half.”
Scotlandville scored 12 points off six St. Augustine turnovers in the fourth quarter to pull away.
The Knights were looking for their first title since 2011 when they beat the Hornets 67-43, but trailed from the start after shooting 33.3 percent in the first quarter while Scotlandville shot 66.7. The Hornets went up 8-2 on a 3-pointer by Beekman, but the Knights were able to pull within three, 11-8, on a steal and dunk by Jefferson midway through the quarter.
Jefferson hit a 3-pointer two minutes into the second quarter to cut Scotlandville’s lead to 18-16.