By T. Scott Boatright
JONESBORO – Anytime a Grambling-based team takes on a team from Southern University, chances are it will turn into an epic catfight.
Thursday night’s Division IV Boys Select School hoops quarterfinal between second-seeded Lincoln Preparatory School and seventh-seeded Southern Lab High School proved that to be true.
And the Panthers made history as Lincoln Prep took control late in the hardfought showdown to take a 70-58 win over the Kittens to punch their tickets for a trip to Marsh Madness to be played next week at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
It marked the first time a Grambling-based high school has defeated Southern Lab since Paul Milsap led Grambling Lab to a win over Southern Lab in the 2002 state semifinals.
Thursday’s 12-point margin of victory came late in a contest that was tied at 47-47 heading into a fast and furious final stanza.
Fast and furious is how the game opened, too. Lincoln Prep opened with a 6-0 lead 2:14 into the contest on senior Bralyn Mayfield’s third straight basketball.
But after the Panthers moved on top 9-3 on a Mayfield layup, the Kittens suddenly shifted things into high gear, going on a 14-3 run that put Southern Lab on top 17-9 at the 1:40 mark of the first quarter.
By the end of the quarter, Southern Lab led 22-12 – something that didn’t surprise Lincoln Prep head coach Antonio Hudson.
“I told our team that would happen,” Hudson said. “I told them to settle down and that it wasn’t going to be easy because Southern Lab was a good team. Basketball is a game of runs and we stayed with the system, stayed with the plan.”
Hudson said he wasn’t surprised to see the game slow down in the second and third quarters.
“That’s something that we noticed when we scouted them, that they play the first quarter so hard they start to get fatigued. All I told my team before we started the second quarter was don’t panic, just stay with the system.”
Lincoln Prep made the move to tighten things back up midway through the second quarter, going on a 10-2 run over the final four minutes of the opening half and tying things up at 35-35 at intermission on Kobe Mack’s three-point play on a layup and free throw 25 seconds before the halftime horn sounded.
The Panthers built three-point leads twice in a slow-paced third quarter, but the Kittens tied things up at 47-47 heading into the fourth quarter when Southern Lab’s Jonathan Butler netted an NBA-distance 3-pointer a split second before the horn sounded.
In the fourth quarter, both teams traded leads until the final four minutes, and the Kittens pulled within one point at 58-57 with 3:30 remaining on a D’Lloyd Johnson 3-pointer.
But Lincoln Prep countered with consecutive layups from Mayfield and Joseph Spann to move on top 62-57 with 2:20 left on the clock.
From there, the Panthers went five-of-seven from the charity stripe with Stephen Burks III adding a putback basket and Mayfield recording another layup while Southern Lab only managed one made free throw on two chances.
Facing double and even triple teams at times throughout much of the game, Mayfield still turned in a double-double with 26 points, including a six-of-10 performance at the free-throw line, and 10 rebounds while adding three assists, three steals and two blocked shots.
“He played his tail off on both ends of the floor,” Hudson said of Mayfield. “I’m proud that he showed that resilience. Last year when we lost in the playoffs, the emotion he showed told me he was going to come back and work harder than ever, and that’s what he did.”
Mayfield said he was determined not to let the pressure he received from the Kittens get to him.
“Our guys — we get in the gym every day and work on our mistakes,” Mayfield said. “I knew I just had to stay strong. I had to finish. Last game I got a technical (foul). I got out of my zone and didn’t think.
“So tonight I knew I had to keep my cool and just keep working.”
Mack totaled a career-best 22 points and added eight rebounds, three steals and two assists while Amarjae Young added 12 points, three steals and two boards.
For Hudson, who prepped at Grambling Lab before going on to star at LSU, the win over the Kittens was a rewarding one.
“I never beatSouthern Lab,” Hudson said. “I was 0-7 against them. It’s great, but we’re not done. We have two more games we have to win. We’ve just got to get back down to work now.”
Hudson said one focus in upcoming days will be making sure they don’t commit 19 turnovers in next week’s games like they did against Southern Lab.
“That was just being lackadaisical,” Hudson said. “We just weren’t careful with the ball. That’s something we are going to have to work on the next few days before we head down south. We can’t always get away with that.
Mayfield said the Panthers know what it will take to win state.
“We just have to stay disciplined and not make the mental mistakes that can cost you. We’ve got to be ready to play.”
The Panthers (23-4) will next take on the winner of tonight’s game between third-seeded Crescent City and sixth-seeded Central Catholic in next week’s Division IV Select School Semifinals.