BATON ROUGE - Walker High School has had some bumps along the road as reigning Class 5A state basketball champions, but the Wildcats showed they can still bring it for the big game.
Jalen Cook was strong early, late and in between with 38 points and Brian Thomas added 18, enabling Walker to go to Scotlandville and snap the Hornets eight-game win streak with a 69-65 District 4-5A victory Tuesday.
The battle of state hoops heavyweights surged back and forth as each team made runs and built leads only to have it answered by the other side.
It was Cook in the end who pushed the Wildcats (20-9, 1-0 in District 4-5A play) across the finish line. He recovered a loose ball and scored to start a 5-0 run that gave the Wildcats a 67-61 lead with less than a minute to play.
Cook had 10 of his points in the fourth quarter and passed the 2,000-point career mark, according to Walker coach Anthony Schiro.
“Jalen is a special player,” Schiro said. “He’s being recruited heavy by a lot of people. I think you saw why. When he’s locked in, making shots and playing defense, it’s hard to find a better guard in the state.”
Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample, whose team lost for only the second time in 30 games, needed no convincing.
“Three reasons we got beat: Jalen Cook, Jalen Cook and Jalen Cook,” Sample said with a smile.
Reece Beekman hit a rebound shot to cut the score to 62-61 when Walker missed a shot and the ball was batted around. Cook snatched it up and flipped it into the basket.
Carvell Teasett, who led Scotlandville with 26 points, missed a 3-point shot and Thomas made the first of two free throws with 1:01 remaining to make it 65- 61.
Beekman, who scored 17 points, tried to drive the baseline but missed a short jump shot. Walker’s Trent Montgomery rebounded and fired a pass to the other end of the court to Donald Butler, who laid it in.
Teasett scored from the lane with 29.9 seconds and Sample called a timeout, but the Hornets were forced to foul from that point on.
Cook made two free throws with 26.1 seconds to push the lead back to six points.
“I knew my guys were going to be ready to play, and rise to the occasion,” Schiro said. “Scotlandville didn’t go away, they made their run. I was proud of my guys for handling it, making our own run. It took all 32 minutes. We didn’t win every quarter, but we didn’t lose a quarter.”
Walker’s defense slowed the Hornets from the outset and the Wildcats never trailed in the first half, leading by as many as eight points, 29-21, on a basket by Kevin Brady. The Hornets missed six consecutive shots before Teasett and David Thomas connected on back-to-back 3- pointers.
Scotlandville’s Thomas hit another 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to cut Walker’s lead to 34-33.
“We wanted to keep it out of (Tai’reon Joseph’s) hands,” Schiro said. “He’s a playmaker. We did a pretty good job of that. Reece is their man and we wanted Jalen to make him work really hard all night long. He made some great shots. I told Jalen to just keep playing great defense.
“We tried to bother (Teasett) with length but he got hot and made some great shots. The guys followed the game plan like we planned it. Jalen kept pushing Reece to his left. Reece made some tough shots going to his left.”
The home team came out strong in the second half. After Cook scored, Scotlandville ripped off a 15-0 run to take the game’s biggest lead, 48-36. Walker went into a 0 for 6 shooting drought while Teasett hit a pair of 3s, Jonathan Horton had two put backs and Beekman two layups.
But Walker rallied behind Cook again, who finished the third period with 13 points and Walker on top, 51-50. Thomas and Cook combined for all 15 points and Cook finished the run with his third 3-pointer of the game.
“We just had to keep our composure, stay humble and fight through adversity,” Cook said. “We’ve been through it. We’re built for it.
“It was a must win for us. We feel like we can beat any team on any given night if we play our hardest. We played hard on defense all night. We came out and defended, stayed in front of them.”
The teams went at each other hard in the final eight minutes with the lead changing hands six times until Walker’s decisive run.
“It was a great game,” Sample said. “We got beat. I have no excuses. Some things we talked about that we need to do well, we didn’t do them. It came back to bite us.
“Defensively and getting loose balls,” Sample said. “We didn’t crash the boards. Too much standing around. As their best players played at another level, our best players faded. We’ll be back. We’ve still got a long season. We lost to a state champion. My hat goes off to those guys.”