DENHAM SPRINGS – Denham Springs appeared poised to go to Walker for a Friday clash of District 4-5a co-leaders, an opportunity for the Yellow Jackets to gauge their progress going into the final month of the regular season.
Zachary had other ideas and spoiled those plans.
The Broncos overcame a cold-shooting first half with a torrid third quarter and pulled away down the stretch for a 53-48 victory Tuesday over the Yellow Jackets at Grady Hornsby Gymnasium.
“More times than not, the team that wants to win is going to be the one the prevails,” Denham Springs coach Kevin Caballero said. “That was Zachary. Hands down. We played, but they were the tougher team and they wanted it more.”
Zachary (16-12, 2-1) displayed some of that toughness in the final three minutes with the game hanging in the balance.
Swingman Chris Hilton took a pass from Dylan Jackson and nailed a 3-pointer from the corner, giving the Broncos the lead for good (45-43).
It was the third consecutive lead change over the span of a minute when an offensive rebound led to C.J. Johnson’s baseline drive and layup and a 43-42 edge for the Yellow Jackets.
The second field of the game for foul-plagued Xavier Miles enabled Denham Springs to remain within a point (47-46) with 2:27 to play, but Hilton knocked down a 15-footer and guard Chan Moore added four straight points on a drive and a pair of free throws to stretch the Broncos’ lead to 51-46 left with 57 seconds left.
“That’s a big win,” Zachary coach Jon McClinton said. “In my opinion, coach Cab always has the most well coached team in the district. It’s year in and year out and you’re going to have to fight. Hats off to them. They play hard. It’s tough winning games in our district.”
Kaleb Drummer’s driving spin move with 24 seconds left accounted for the final score, giving DSHS its first field goal in nearly four minutes.
The Yellow Jackets (17-14, 3-1) fell out of a tie for the district lead heading into Friday’s 7 p.m. league clash at Walker (22-9, 3-0).
Guard Micah Banks topped DSHS with 17 points with Drummer adding 14 and DJ Williams nine – all in the second half.
“In this district all of them are tough,” Caballero said. “We go to the defending state champs, a much-improved Central team (Feb. 12) and then Scotlandville (Feb. 15). We’ve got five seniors and let’s see how they respond. You can do one of two things, you can either get back up or stay down and I expect them to be back up.”
Hilton scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half, including seven in the fourth quarter. Center Darian Ward contributed 11 and Moore 10 – all in the second half.
Both teams struggled from the field in the first half; DSHS 35 percent (8 of 23) and Zachary 18 percent (5 of 28). The Yellow Jackets lead 20-12 at halftime behind nine points from Banks, who scored the last points of the half with 2:03 remaining – on a free throw following an offensive rebound.
“I thought we did a good job defensively in the first half and held them to 12 points,” Caballero said. “I told the guys we needed to come out and have a good third quarter.”
Ward’s spin move in the lane triggered a red-hot start to the second half.
After making just five field goals in 16 minutes of the opening half, the Broncos made their first seven shots of the third quarter in less than five minutes – erasing an eight-point deficit to lead 30-25.
Zachary’s 19-5 run out of the locker room featured scoring from four different players with Jackson draining a pair of 3-pointers that resulted in a 28-22 lead at the 4:24 mark.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” McClinton said of his team’s third-quarter turnaround. “We had good shots (in the first half), it just kept going in and out. I told them at halftime to just keep shooting. Either get the referee to call a foul or it’s going to fall. Once we saw the ball not falling so much, we got timid and focused too much on trying to get the ball in the hole.”
Caballero said there were breakdowns with his team’s defense in the third quarter, especially against Jackson who had two points to that juncture in the game.
“We did a good job on No. 3 and different guys guarding him,” he said. “For unknown reason he hits two big ones in the third quarter and they’re off to a 24-point quarter. We lost some shooters in transition. I thought our effort was good, but I expected more.”
A 3-pointer from Banks stopped Zachary’s initial surge before the Broncos went on to lead by seven (32-25) on Ward’s put back. The Jackets regained the lead (40-36) with 6:03 left in the game on consecutive baskets from Williams.
Zachary outscored DSHS 41-28 in the second half.
“We practice stop, score, stop,” McClinton said. “We stopped, scored and got a stop and that’s what we did in the third quarter. Of course, we knew they were coming. They’re well coached.”