Bearcats, Panthers go big at TAC preparing for Marsh Madness

Pictured are the Lincoln Prep Panthers practicing Tuesday evening at Louisiana Tech’s Thomas Assembly Center. (Photo by T. Scott Boatright)

By T. Scott Boatright

Playing in Marsh Madness – the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s basketball tournament – is a big thing, and requires big-time preparation.

Toward that end, the two Lincoln Parish teams still alive in the state boys basketball tournament – Ruston High, the No. 2 seed in the Division I Nonselect school bracket, and Lincoln Preparatory School, the No. 2 seed in the Division IV Select school bracket, worked out Tuesday at Louisiana Tech’s Thomas Assembly Center before heading down to Lake Charles today to prepare for the tournament that will be hosted by McNeese State’s Barton Coliseum.

 “It’s just a chance to get in a bigger arena and practice,” said Bearcats coach Ryan Bond Tuesday evening. “We appreciate (Louisiana Tech) get in there and practice, but how much it will help I don’t know because it’s still a lot different than (Barton Coliseum)

“There’s a lot of open space behind both goals down there. But any time you can get into a bigger place – a different place — it’s a slight advantage when you’re taking shots during a game.”

Panthers coach Antonio Hudson said getting used to different depth perceptions is the biggest takeaway from workouts at the TAC.

“It was good to get them out to a big arena and let them get the feel of it, especially the new guys,” Hudson said. “I’ll bet they know how long it is because I ran them enough. But it was big to get them in this kind of atmosphere when you think about depth perception and things like that.”

That perception of depth might be especially important for a team like Lincoln Prep that hasn’t played on a true home court in years as a new school building nearing completion has been under construction.

“At this point I don’t think doing something like this can do anything but help us,” Hudson said. “We’re used to dealing with adversity, so a tough practice like today isn’t that big a thing for this team. We’ve been there before. This isn’t their first team shooting in an arena like this. 

“And this has been going on for more than just this year. It’s been that way the last three to four years – we haven’t had a place to really call home. The success we’ve had is really just a testament to the kids and this program.”

Both coaches said the biggest advantage of practicing in the TAC will be felt at the free-throw line.

“When you’re playing in a bigger arena than you’re used to, you have to be more focused,” Hudson said. “It’s about depth perception.

“But in any arena, the length and distance is still the same, and 3-point length is the same,” Hudson said. “The thing this does is get you focused and zoned in extra hard on your target. You have to have that focus so you – it’s not erase, but focus – enough so that you don’t see that background.”

Ruston practiced in the TAC on both Monday and Tuesday and said he noticed one thing about working out in a bigger arena.

“All good shooters, like Aiden Anding and Joran Parker and Lontravius Dimmer for us, they’ve been shooting the ball pretty well,” Bond said. “So I think we’re going to be fine. I’m confident in our guys.”

Bond jokingly said he considered borrowing a tip from the Gene Hackman classic prep basketball movie “Hoosiers.” 

“I kidded with someone that I wanted to bring out the tape measure like in ‘Hoosiers’ to show the team the distance from the basket to the free-throw line, or anything else, is the same no matter how big it is.

“But the players wouldn’t have known that reference. It’s still 15 feet to the free-throw line. I think the biggest thing I noticed when we made it when I was at Weston is that they were shooting the threes from the college 3-point line. They have a line somewhat taped off, but it’s still not a high school line like the players are used to. So the biggest thing is to get them to focus on the fact they’ve got to put more arch on their shots and make sure they get the basketball there.”

Bond feels the Bearcats practices have gone well.

“We had a long day yesterday,” Bond said. “We lifted and had shooting. And we practiced after school at the TAC. Today a majority of the guys had an ACT and pre-ACT day. There’s a lot going on but the guys have been really working hard.

“I’ve been pleased. I haven’t kicked them out of practice or anything like that. We’ve had some good practices. We might have a bad play happen, but I’ve been really happy with the guys. They’re excited. They’re going to have a little silliness. But I know at 6:15 Thursday night they’re going to come out real hard because they want to get to that state championship game. They want to win it. But that starts on Thursday against a good basketball team.”

The Bearcats will leave for Lake Charles at noon today after a short practice to prepare for Thursday’s 6:15 p.m. semifinal showdown against third-seeded Ponchatula.

“We’ll go to the hotel first, and then we’ll go to the arena,” Bond said. “I don’t know, but I doubt any of our guys have ever been in there. So we’ll check it out. I know we’ll catch at least some of the Winnfield game.”

The Panthers will leave for Lake Charles at 9 a.m. today and will practice at Sam Houston High School.

“We’ll go down and go to the 1 o’clock game, then we’ll go check into the hotel. We’re going to practice at Sam Houston High School, too.”

Hudson admitted his biggest concern is making sure his Panthers are properly focused on the challenge that lies ahead, beginning with third-seeded Crescent City. That game is set for a 1:15 tip-off on Thursday.  

“It’s our mentality,” Hudson said of his biggest concern heading into Marsh Madness. “ I’m not trying to take anything away from any of the three great teams that are down there playing for the Division IV Select playoffs along with us. We’ve been one of the top three or four teams all year.

“But we have to remain focused. We have to make sure that we pay attention to the little details and execute what we do – both on and off the court.”

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