Bearcats advance to state quarterfinals

Ruston High went into the halftime locker room Tuesday night, trailing East Ascension 23-18 in a Class 5A regional match-up at the RHS Main Gym.

The Bearcats hadn’t played a real clean first half as the opening 16 minutes was marred with turnovers and a lot of missed shots.

But whatever Ruston head coach Ryan Bond told his guys at the half, he needs to bottle it up and sell. The Bearcats came out of the locker room and outscored East Ascension 22-8 in the third quarter on their way to a 55-50 victory.

“I told them we had to get the ball inside,” said Bond. “I told them we have 16 minutes or we won’t be practicing tomorrow. We got 16 minutes or we won’t be playing on Friday night. I said we have to fight collectively. We have to rebound better. We have to finish our layups. We missed a lot of easy ones in the first half. And we did that in the second half.”

Jay Lillard was one of the Bearcats who took Bond’s message to heart. After going scoreless in the first two quarters, Lillard came out and scored eight of his 14 second half points in the third quarter, spearheading Ruston’s charge.

“Jay had that look,” said Bond. “One of our assistant coaches told him you have to finish. You are getting great looks, you just have to finish. He was big for us in the second half.”

East Ascension led 12-10 at the end of a first quarter that was full of turnovers by the Bearcats. And the visitor upped that lead to 23-18 at the half as the second 8-minute stanza wasn’t much better for Ruston.

“It was the same thing Friday night,” said Bond of his team’s first round playoff win. “I know they are ready to play. They just get a little too amped up. On our first possession we set this play up pregame and our best ball handler just fumbles it. And the second time we run the same play and (Jackson) Pilgreen misses a dunk. We just get too jacked up. And that’s fine. I would rather us be too jacked up then not have enough juice at the beginning of the game.”

Braylan McNeal was the only Bearcat that posted any type of first half offense, accounting for 11 of his team’s 18 points. McNeal led all scorers with 17 points in the win, a victory that came on his birthday.

Ruston took a 40-31 lead into the fourth quarter, and although East Ascension was never able to tie the game or take the lead, they did close it to as few as four points on a couple of occasions. The Bearcats pace never slowed down, even in the waning minutes when the clock became a factor for East Ascension.

Bond said that’s just who the Bearcats are this year.

“I think a part of it was fatigue,” said Bond. “I haven’t seen us that fatigued this season, but our guys were just playing so hard. I would rather up the tempo. I would rather go, go, go, go. You just have to live with it. We always say the hay is in the barn. And that’s how we have played all year with some pace and some tempo. We just can’t sit around and hold the ball.”

Pilgreen added 10 points while Aidan Anding chipped in with nine.

Troy Dunn led East Ascension with 17 points while Keith Thomas scored 12. East Ascension finished the season 16-9.

With the win, Ruston High (26-4) will host 11th seed Northshore (24-6) Friday. Tip time is yet to be determined. Northshore pulled off a 63-53 upset road win over 6th seeded Captain Shreve.

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