Destrehan was controlling the action Tuesday night on the road against East St. John in what was effectively the game that would decide the District 7-5A championship.
Then, suddenly, things veered off course for DHS, the fans in attendance got an exciting finish – and East St. John earned at least a share of the district crown via its 52-50 comeback win over Destrehan.
“We knew coming in that this was going to be a tough game,” said ESJ head coach Antonio Broadway. “We’ve been down before. We were down at Hahnville (and came back to win). We just need a couple defensive stops … we knew Destrehan was very strong defensively. (Green is) my mentor. He knows me very, very well. Just some small things helped us out. Being locked in … this is a big win for us.”
Destrehan and ESJ each have two district losses now, tied atop the 7-5A standings. The teams split their two games, with DHS winning the previous matchup at home. ESJ has wrapped up its season, but Destrehan has one district game left, at home Friday night against Thibodaux. A win there would clinch a shared District 7-5A championship. A loss would seal the outright honor for ESJ.
“We turned the ball over at inopportune times,” said Troy Green, Destrehan head coach. “We controlled the game, played at our pace, but at the worst possible time, we put up some threes when we didn’t need to take. We turned it over trying to force the issue. And of course, we missed eight free throws.”
The foul shooting struggles of Destrehan have been something Green has cautioned his team about all season, noting it could bite them in a big game. At 24-5, Destrehan has overcome it throughout the season, but it did loom large Tuesday.
Tuesday night’s game was played at West St. John, where East St. John has played several home games this season as its gym was rendered unusable by Hurricane Ida. It also came down to a wild finish. Destrehan trailed 50-45 after Jabari Bolden scored for ESJ with just under a minute and a half left.
Calvin Bullock scored on a drive to cut the lead to three. Destrehan’s press then forced a ESJ turnover on the sideline, but ESJ forced one in kind when it notched a steal on an entry pass. East St. John tacked on two more points. Kaden Nickelson made a basket to cut the lead to two at the other end for Destrehan. With 14 seconds left, Destrehan put ESJ on the line for a one-and-one; the shot was missed and DHS pushed the ball down the court, getting two looks at the basket in close – the second on an attempted put-back – but neither found the bottom of the net, and time ran out before DHS could muster another attempt.
“We came into the game in first place. We controlled our own destiny,” Green said. “The good thing about it, we play at home Friday and we have a chance to force a tie. So, take care of business Friday and there’s a good chance you’ll see these guys again.”
That third hypothetical matchup could come in the playoffs – or even before that. The winner of the district championship receives a full power point toward their playoff seeding score. For two teams with high hopes of a deep playoff run, there may be more incentive to play a third game to determine who gets that point, prior to the playoffs.
The loss was nonetheless a tough pill to swallow for Destrehan, which led 31-21 at halftime and 39-33 headed into the fourth, finishing the third with a surge of momentum when Devin Fourcha made a tough 3-point shot as time expired.
But a few minutes before that shot, East St. John found new life itself on Bryce Gilyot’s stepback 3 pointer – and one, as he drew a foul for a four-point play that cut what was a nine-point Destrehan lead to five.
In the fourth quarter, things began to get very tight when ESJ’s Warren Snyder sank a 3 to answer a pull-up jumper by Fourcha. The cut Destrehan’s lead to 43-42, and things were back and forth from there.
Bolden and Kylon Harris led ESJ with 14 points each. Gilyot added 10.
For Destrehan, Bullock led with 14 points. Makylon Smothers scored eight – all in a second quarter where he ignited his team going into halftime.
“It was a learning experience for us,” Green said. “This is really this group’s first time in this situation, and we’re learning to win.”