LAKE CHARLES – Junior swingman Tai’reon Joseph of Scotlandville Magnet admitted to dealing with a case of nerves in his first start in a state semifinal game Thursday’s matchup against Catholic High.
His performance suggested otherwise.
Joseph provided the early spark No. 1 Scotlandville needed from the perimeter, scoring 14 of his team-high 21 points in the first half to lead the Hornets past the Bears, 66-59, at Burton Coliseum.
Scotlandville (33-2) faces St. Augustine in Saturday’s Division I final at noon where the Hornets will make their 10th consecutive appearance in a state championship game.
The Hornets are looking for their third straight state crown and sixth during that span.
“These kids don’t want to let the tradition down,” Sample said. “They play for themselves and they play for the tradition and I can appreciate their efforts.”
Joseph was one of three double-digit scorers for Scotlandville, which shot 48 percent (23 of 48) for the game – including 55 percent (11 of 20) from 3-point range.
Reece Beekman added 17 points, Carvell Teasett 16 and Jonathan Horton nine, who was a force defensively with seven of his team’s eight blocked shots.
“I commend my kids,” Sample said. “They were locked in and followed the scouting report as best we did all season.”
Joseph and Teasett ignited Scotlandville early, combing on 4-of-4 shooting from 3-point range in the first six minutes of play and scored 16 of their team’s 18 points for a 18-7 first-quarter lead.
Sample credited the play of his defense, which forced Catholic (30-6) into 3-of-13 shooting in the first quarter, for helping his team get into an early offensive groove.
The Hornets only trailed for 63 seconds in the contest, taking the lead for good at the 5:06 mark on Joseph’s 3-pointer from the top of the key.
“One of our strengths is shooting and we can score from four, possibly even five positions,” Sample said. “We wanted to spread the floor and just play the way we’ve been playing all year. The defensive effort they gave helped with the rhythm on the offensive end and that rhythm was a wide as the ocean to the start the game.”
Catholic fought back over the first three minutes of the second quarter on the strength of a 9-1 run, narrowing the gap to 19-16, and again remained within three points at 21-18.
However, that’s where the Hornets revved up their engine again with Joseph igniting an 8-2 run with a 3-pointer from the corner and David Thomas III capped the surge with a 5-footer from outside the line with 3:29 left until halftime, to make it 29-20.
The Hornets carried a 34-25 lead into the locker room when Beekman scored on a second-chance basket just before the buzzer.
“At the beginning of the game we wanted to get to the rim, but if you have an open shot, knock it down,” Joseph said. “It’s my first time starting. I was a little nervous, coach just told me if I had the shot, to make it count and that’s what I did.”
Sample said it was imperative for his team to try and limit Catholic’s 3-point shooting and stop them from getting to the free throw line.
The Bears were only 3 of 17 (17.6 percent) from 3-point range and made 10 of 19 free throw attempts.
“You talk about a good 3-point shooting team and they made three,” Sample said. “To keep them off the line was key for us and to get the victory. These young men played hard, they fought hard. They’ve gone above and beyond what I’ve asked them to do.”
Scotlandville outscored Catholic by two points in the third quarter, taking an 11-point lead (49-38) into the fourth quarter when Kentrell Garnett, who scored 17 of his game-high 23 points, helped the Bears close within 56-48 with 2:35 to play.
Catholic got to within 52-46 with 39 to go when the Hornets went 4-of-6 at the free throw line over the last 21.3 seconds to seal the victory.
“Catholic showed a lot of resiliency,” Sample said. “My boys showed a lot of grit, guts and determination to keep that lead and win the game.”