Destrehan swarmed defensively, jumping passing lanes, blocking shots and turning loose its transition game, time and time again.
Basketball may be a 5-on-5 encounter, but at times there seemed to be 8, 10 or 12 Wildcats patrolling on the defensive end Friday night, as the No. 9 seeded hosts turned back No. 24 St. Amant, 74-61, in the Class 5A opening round playoff game between the teams – and in the process, captured the Wildcats’ first playoff win in more than a decade, the last coming in 2011.
“The good thing is, these kids don’t remember that, know how long it’s been,” said Destrehan head coach Troy Green, who earned his first playoff win with Destrehan in his second year with the team. “We wanted it. We played a good team. I didn’t think that was a true No. 24 seed. We came in, we executed, and at the end, we made some free throws.”
Destrehan (26-5) advances to round two, where it will travel to face No. 8 Natchitoches Central, 2021 state runner-up. NCHS defeated No. 25 Denham Springs to advance, 61-49.
The Wildcats were faced with defending a versatile offense that spreads the floor with shooters – and a Gators team that had bested multiple teams among Destrehan’s District 7-5A rivals. DHS was up to the test.
“We came prepared … we did what our coach taught us to do and got the win,” Fourcha said. “Defense is our main focus. Work on the defensive end, get buckets on the offensive end. Before we played them at practice, we ran a little shell drill. We try not to help because we know they have shooters. We know they’re gonna let it fly.”
Said Thomas, “It feels good … we’ve worked so hard at practice. Rebounding, and you’ve got to start everything at the defensive end … we want to take this all the way to the ‘ship.”
In addition to the win, Friday represented the first game Destrehan hosted in the playoffs since that 2011 season, and they celebrated that distinction in style.
In the middle of the second quarter, DHS led St. Amant by three – and then ramped up the pressure. Destrehan ended the first half on a 13-2 run and extended that surge into the second half, ultimately outscoring the Gators 18-2 before a Letavian Crockett jumper allowed St. Amant’s offense to gain some footing.
Jai Thomas’ hot shooting lit the fuse for DHS. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the second quarter to give his team a 21-15 lead. Then it was Makylon Smothers’ turn, scoring twice inside but making an equal impact defensively, with two notable blocked shots turning back St. Amant attempts.
Devin Fourcha darted into a passing lane to make a steal and then a layup to push Destrehan ahead 27-15. A Davonne Wells pull up jumper, followed by another by Thomas, gave Destrehan a 31-17 lead at half – a near Fourcha basket just before half threatened to extend that advantage to 16, but the play was ruled a charge.
That didn’t dampen the run, which was capped by a Thomas jumper from the top of the key, a 3 that made it 36-17.
Back-to-back baskets by Crockett, including a step back 3, got the St. Amant offense stirring. But Fourcha got rolling as well, notching two steals, two layups and an assist to Calvin Bullock for another score. That gave Destrehan a 17-point lead, 42-25.
St. Amant was not interested in going home quietly, though, and fought back to make this a game. Trace Forbes sank a 3, and Jah’leel Ester hit another to cut the lead to 12. DHS pushed the advantage back to 1, but St. Amant answered with a 10-1 run, a Crockett bucket making it a 56-47 game.
The final minutes of play were lengthy – Destrehan spent a good portion of the fourth killing clock, but from there it became a foul-shooting battle. St. Amant forced a turnover with 2:16 left and Forbes hit another 3, making it an 8-point game.
But that was a close as things would get. Destrehan put things away at the line and held the Gators at bay.
That was significant, as foul shooting has been the Wildcats’ Achilles’ heel at times this season.
“They did a good job of lengthening the game on us. When it went to that, (making free throws) was what it was about,” Green said. “You’ve got to make them and get out … we shoot so many. We’ve played so many games and seen a lot. It’s about executing and believing in ourselves.”
Thomas scored 18 points to lead Destrehan. Fourcha finished with 15 points and Bullock 11. Jai Eugene scored seven, all coming in the fourth quarter.
Forbes and Crockett each scored 15 points and Ester scored 10 for St. Amant (18-13).
The Destrehan press came up big in this one, and Green said when it came down to tailoring the gameplan for this game, the Wildcats simply did what they do best.
“You always second-guess, think about what the opponent does … to me, we want to play how we play. That’s our strong point and we’re gonna use it. We’re quick to the ball and that’s what we like to do,” Green said.
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