It’s a rare day that Hahnville head coach Yussef Jasmine’s voice goes hoarse during a game, but such was the case on Friday night – he used it loud and often in his team’s intense opening round playoff battle with visiting Southwood.
While the Tigers led throughout, 5A’s fourth seed was allowed nothing easy by the 29th seeded Cowboys and HHS saw what was a 15-point fourth quarter lead slip down to one with just about a minute left to play. But ultimately Hahnville regrouped and advanced to round two, pulling away in the final minute for a 54-45 victory in Boutte.
Hahnville (19-3) will host No. 13 East Ascension in round two. The two teams met earlier this season, with Hahnville earning a 64-59 win over EA.
“The emotion of the playoffs, the emotion of the crowd cheering you on … we missed some shots we have to make,” said Jasmine. “This week was one of the best shooting weeks we’ve had in practice, but tonight we weren’t making shots. … just getting through the first round, it’s always a challenge. I thought we guarded really well. A first round win, I’m excited about it.”
It was a banner night for Claudell Harris Jr. Hahnville’s leading scorer on the season was also tops on this night, scoring 34 of his team’s 54 point total. Kaden Pierre scored 11 and Tyren LeBeauf added six.
Mar’Quarrius Johnson led the Cowboys (12-12) with 14 points, while Eric McKnight Jr. added 13.
Harris’ efforts were needed on a night that was otherwise one of Hahnville’s colder ones of the season from the field. The senior and Charleston Southern signee saved his best play for the fourth quarter, scoring 15 of Hahnville’s 21 in the period.
“We had to really come together as a unit … I’m not going to lie, at one point we started breaking down a little bit,” Harris said. “We had to come back together and get it right, and start doing the things we needed to do.
“That first playoff game brings the most nerves, always. Now that we have that out the way, we’ve got eyes on the championship.”
The win could be the first toward that ultimate goal in the playoffs for a Hahnville team that reached the Class 5A semifinals last season. Southwood was not interested in ceding anything, however.
The game was close for most of the night, but the difference came at the end of each half, as Hahnville scoring spurts to close the second and fourth quarters spelled the difference. HHS led 24-18 at halftime.
The Tigers led 32-27 when it made its first big move toward finishing the Cowboys. Hahnville’s Koi Smith drew a foul inside and made a free throw to kickstart what would be a 14-4 run that pushed the lead to 46-31 with 3:30 left in the game. The run capped off with back to back spectacular plays: first on Kaden Pierre’s two-handed jam, then a baseline one-handed throwdown by Harris that sent a rush of energy through the crowd.
“I got it in the corner, and I’d hit some threes, so I knew they’d close out hard,” Harris said. “My first instinct was to drive baseline. He was a little too low and I just took off.”
That seemed on the surface to be the exclamation point for the host Tigers, but as Southwood did all night it proved to be anything but an easy out. The Cowboys kept battling. Johnson hit a 3 that made it 46-36. McKnight converted a basket-and-one to make it a 7-point difference. And shortly after, back-to-back baskets by Tahj Graham and Artavious Washington cut the lead to one, 46-45, a little more than two minutes following the Tigers’ game-best 15 point lead.
LeBeauf, returning to action after missing time late in the season, drove and converted a layup to push the lead back to 3 with 37.9 seconds left. The Tigers drew a charge at the other end, and Southwood fouled Harris on the inbounds pass before he sunk two at the line.
With 17 seconds left, Hahnville dug in on defense and Southwood turned the ball over via a traveling violation, and the Tigers were finally all but off to round two.
Friday’s game was Hahnville’s first in the past two weeks since its regular season finale, a win over Destrehan. The Tigers elected to stay idle for that period to ensure the team be fully healthy and to steer clear of any COVID-related issues.
For a HHS program that spent time in the state’s No. 1 spot this season and has carried great expectations throughout the year, this is what everything has built toward.
“We know this is a special team,” said Jasmine. “The goal is obviously to get to the state championship. We had a phenomenal season last year, and there’s responsibility that comes with that now. People expect you to be better. We expect to be better every year. So that next step is the championship game, and we’re comfortable with that pressure.”