By T. Scott Boatright
Oftentimes the outcome of a game that’s been tight the whole way through boils down to simple composure at the end.
And that’s exactly how eighth-seeded Choudrant cooked up a 53-48 opening-round win over Florien Friday night in Division V Nonselect School playoff action at the CHS Gym.
Florien, the 25th seed, went long in its attempt to move on to the second round as the Black Cats poured in 12 3-pointers, with six of those coming in the final quarter of play.
“It was just an intense game from start to finish and I’m so proud of the way the ghys stayed strong and kept their composure in the fourth quarter, especially at the free-throw line,” said Aggies coach Ryan Smith. “Florien kept pouring in threes and sending us to the line, but we made them when we needed them.
“They hit 12 threes, and they weren’t just catch-and-shoot threes. They came in all kinds of ways – there were off the dribble threes, there were turnaround threes. They were on fire and their defense was in your face. That was a tough one. A hard-earned win.”
Choudrant built a 7-4 lead in the first quarter before Florien battled back to tie things up near the end of the stanza on a 3-pointer by Jalen Stewart, the first of his five treys on the night.
And the Aggies went up by as many as four points at 14-10 in the second quarter on a Mike Jones’ putback with 4:50 left on the clock and then again at 20-16 on a Eli Callender layup with 1:30 remaining in the opening half before the Black Cats battled back again, scoring the final four points before intermission to tied things up 20-20 at the half.
Callender took it to the basket to score from underneath three times in that second quarter and finished with 11 points for the Aggies.
“He doesn’t always use it, but Eli has a special skill just taking the ball right to the basket,” Smith said. “A lot of times defenses get caught off guard with it. I joke with him because he labels himself as a third baseman who plays basketball, too.
“But I told him tonight, I said, ‘Look, you’re turning into a great basketball player and a third baseman, so I hope he can now just keep building on it. He was feeling it and we needed it big time because of all the attention Florien was giving Parker (Batteron) and Lachlan (Thompson).”
Choudrant again pushed out to a small lead in the third quarter before the Black Cats battled back still again, cutting the Aggies’ lead to 30-28 heading into the final eight minutes of play.
The fourth quarter was all about the Aggies surviving the Black Cats’ long-range bombardment while taking care of business at the free-line themselves.
And while Florien netted six treys in the final stanza — three each by Stewart and Tucker Johnson, Choudrant responded by making good on 12 of 20 attempts from the charity stripe to escape with the win.
“We went on that run in the third quarter that sparked a lot of momentum for us, but then we got down in the fourth,” Smith said. “But thankfully we got some calls as far as how aggressive they were playing defensively and we went to the free-throw line and won with poise, discipline and free throws.”
“That’s something we’ve preached all year. We’ve lost a lot of those kinds of games. A lot of our games this season have gone down to the end. So I told the team in the locker room after it was over, that I’d lose all those again if that’s what prepared us to finish like we did tonight.”
Jones led the Aggies with 16 points, scoring seven of those in the fourth quarter with a pair of putbacks and three free throws on four attempts while Thompson chipped in with 12 and Batterton added 11.
“Mike was just relentless on the boards all night, offensively and Lawson Stevens had so many huge defensive rebounds. Their inside game on the boards played a huge role in the game and I am just so proud of the way they kept on battling.”
Next up for the Aggies (27-9) will be a second home game, this one set for 6 p.m. Tuesday against 24th-seeded Atlanta, a 62-49 overtime winner over ninth-seeded Phoenix on Friday night.