WATSON – Walker’s boys basketball team represented the top of the mountain in Class 5A basketball a year ago.
When they jumped out to a commanding 26-5 lead through the first 12 minutes of Friday’s nondistrict game at Live Oak, the Wildcats stood even taller.
“That’s a huge mountain to climb,” Live Oak coach John Capps said of his team’s 21-point deficit.
While Live Oak, riding a rocking home crowd, got back into contention when they got the game to single digits in the fourth quarter, Walker showed its big-game resolve by repelling the Eagles over the last four minutes for a 69-59 victory at C.B. Wheat Gymnasium.
“I was disappointed they cut so much off of our lead,” Walker coach Anthony Schiro said. “But I told our guys that I was proud that they did get it (lead) back out when they got as close as eight.”
A night after leading Walker with 30 points in a 65-59 home victory over Catholic High, junior guard Jalen Cook produced a game-high 29 points, including eight points in the last four minutes to help the Wildcats maintain a double-digit lead.
Sophomore forward Brian Thomas scored 15 points, senior Trent Montgomery 10 and freshman forward Donald Butler added nine.
“Donald played an amazing game,” Schiro said. “He did a good job defensively in the first half. I thought he grew up a little bit, toughened up where he got some big rebounds and put backs. If he can do that night in and night out that’s going to be a big plus for our team.”
This was the sequel to the two teams meeting Dec. 8 in the championship game of the Livingston Parish Tournament which Walker won 68-63.
The Wildcats, the No. 7 team in the LHSAA’s unofficial power ratings, host the Eagles, the No. 8 team, in the District 4-5A finale for both teams Feb. 12.
“Losing to them by 10 doesn’t hurt you,” Capps said. “We still proved we could compete. They’re an elite team. We’ve got to find a way to get over the hump, however that is. I believe this team can do it. They’ve just got to buy in and do it.”
Walker (17-8) broke a 3-all tie and threatened to run away from Live Oak (15-6) over the next eight minutes of play.
Cook scored 12 points and Thomas 10, but it was a stifling defensive effort that enabled the Wildcats to build a 26-5 advantage at the 3:53 mark of the second quarter.
“We came out and wanted to play hard,” Thomas said. “We knew they had some shooters and we wanted to close out on them. We had to keep them contained and play hard. I could tell we were going to come out and play hard, but I didn’t expect that.”
Live Oak, which didn’t start leading scorer Bryan Bayonne because of a decision by Capps, only made 1 of its first 17 shot attempts over a 7-minute, 14-second span of the game until Halen Cox’s 3-pointer with 2:31 to go before halftime.
“That was one of the best ones,” Schiro said of his team’s first-half defense which limited Live Oak to 15 points and 4 of 23 shooting for 17 percent. “When we get down and guard with our athletes, we’re pretty good. They can stay in front of people, they can guard people and when we’re in tune, we can take away driving lanes and do a lot of good things. We also rebound the ball when we’re focused.”
Walker led 35-15 at halftime – a margin they were able to maintain over a five-minute span of the third quarter when Montgomery fed Calvin Watson for a layup and 48-28 cushion.
Bryan Bayonne converted a three-point play and reeled off eight of his 16 points in the final two minutes of play, proving a spark for an offense that played significant minutes without Vince Bayonne and DaDa Capling because of foul trouble.
Guard Lawrence Pierre was a big part of the Eagles second-half resurgence with 10 of his 15 points, knocking down a 3-pointer followed by Darian Ricard, who took a charge against Cook on the defensive end, making a driving bank shot over Montgomery for an 8-0 run to get within nine points (50-41) with seconds left.
Walker countered with a basket from Thomas, whose shot rolled around the back of the rim and fell through at the buzzer.
“They dominated us in the first half, and we can’t allow that to happen,” Capps said. “Credit to them. They defended us very well. I don’t know what was up to us. It was either fight or get embarrassed. We’ve got to start better and that starts with me. That starts with them.”
Live Oak, which shot 50 percent (17 of 34) in the second half, got to within eight points (63-55) on a driving layup from Bryan Bayonne when Cook scored on a drive followed by a pair of free throws with 48.9 seconds left to make it 67-55.
“I thought we relaxed,” Schiro said. “I thought we let down our defensive intensity and our pressure and I thought we somewhat let them get into a rhythm and you can’t do that with a good team. If I can get the first half Walker Wildcats to show up in the second half that would have been great. That’s what we keep telling the guys and that’s to give us four quarters.”
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