WATSON - Behind a scoring eruption from guard Isaiah Johnson, the Belaire Bengals rallied from an early double-digit deficit and ruined Senior Night at Live Oak High with a 66-59 victory Friday night.
Johnson exploded for a game-high 33 points — including 21 in the second half — to help Belaire erase a 13-point deficit in the first quarter by outscoring Live Oak High 56-40 over the last three quarters.
“(Johnson) came through,” said Belaire coach Marvin Dotson, whose team improved to 19-11 overall and 2-3 in District 4-5A. “He did a whole lot for us, and in a game that we really needed, he put us on his shoulders and took us to the promised land.”
While Belaire celebrated, Live Oak was left wondering how this one slipped away.
The setback marked the second consecutive district loss for the Eagles (17-12, 1-3), who were trying to bounce back from an ugly 100-67 loss Tuesday at the hands of Scotlandville.
And it appeared they would at the start.
After five seniors — Vince and Bryan Bayonne, Brayden Vallot, Caleb Collins and Halen Cox — were honored during a pregame ceremony, things looked promising when Live Oak built a 19-10 lead after the first quarter.
But that lead slowly dwindled until the Bengals went ahead for good early in the second half, putting Live Oak coach John Capps and his squad in a precarious position with only one game left in the regular season — against defending 5A state champion Walker on Tuesday.
“We just didn’t have a good game,” Capps said. “Maybe we thought it was gonna be easier than it was, but (Belaire is) a good team, and I tried telling our guys that before the game. We’re not very consistent right now, and we need to be better than that.”
After leading 30-27 at halftime, the Eagles turned the ball over on four of its first five possessions of the second half, resulting in eight easy points for the Bengals.
Johnson opened the third quarter by hitting five straight buckets — three layups and a pair of 3-pointers — with the last putting his team in front, 43-38.
Belaire’s Chad Starwood and Troy Morris each connected on a layup to push the lead to nine points, but a pair of free throws by Live Oak’s Vince Bayonne at the end of the quarter trimmed the Eagles’ deficit to five points (49-44) entering the fourth.
Johnson kept up his hot play in the last eight minutes with nine points while teammates Starwood, Morris and DeAndre Holliday combined for an additional eight points.
Live Oak pulled within three points on six different occasions in the fourth quarter, with the last coming when Bryan Bayonne drilled a 3-pointer to make it a 60-59 game with 2 minutes left.
But Johnson rifled a pass to Starwood under the basket on the next possession to put his team back up by three. He then added two more free throws and another layup on back-to-back possessions to seal the game for the Bengals, who wrapped up their district schedule with a much-needed win.
“I knew if we had any chance of keeping it close, we had to control the boards and play good defense, especially on (Bryan Bayonne),” Dotson said. “I knew we couldn’t stop him, but it was our goal to slow him down. Hats off to my guys. A win was what we really needed.”
Both teams shot under 50 percent from the field during the game, though Belaire’s 46-percent shooting clip (29-for-63) easily outpaced Live Oak’s 38-percent mark (19-for-50), which included 14 misfires on 22 second-half shots.
In perhaps his last game on his home floor, Bryan Bayonne led the Eagles with 20 points, while Lawrence Pierre added 12 points. Cox and Dada Capling contributed 9 points apiece.
After the game, Capps credited Belaire for “taking the fight” to his team, something he hopes to see his team do against the Wildcats in the regular season finale.
“They played harder than we did, they had more rebounds than we did, and those were differences and keys we were supposed to have, and we didn’t have it,” Capps said. “If we can compete and play the way we’re capable of playing, the season’s not over, but we definitely have to improve. We have to make the winning basketball plays, and we didn’t do that tonight.”