By T. Scott Boatright
LAKE CHARLES – The Lincoln Preparatory School Panthers have knocked on the door of a state championship more than once in recent years.
Now the Panthers feel they’re primed to knock that door off its hinges and hoist their first championship trophy since 1992, when then-junior and future Tulane and NBA standout Jerald Honeycutt guided the high school known in those days as Grambling Laboratory High School to a 52-49 victory over White Castle.
The second-seeded Panthers will take on top-seeded Northwood-Lena for the Division IV Boys Select School championship in a game set for a noon tipoff today at Burton Coliseum.
Lincoln Prep made it all the way to the Class 1A title game in 2020 before falling to North Central 81-65, and reached the semifinals last season before falling to top-seeded and eventual that same team by the score of 70-66.
The Panthers also reached the semifinals in 2017, falling to Tensas 70-60.
Before that, the last time a Grambling-based high school made it to a Final Four (Class 1A) was in 2011, when Grambling Lab fell to Southern Lab 46-29 in the semifinals.
This season, the Panthers opened the playoffs with a 78-60 second-round win over Riverside before defeating Southern Lab 70-58 in the quarterfinals and Crescent City 62-52 in a Thursday semifinal to reach their second title game over the past three seasons.
Like Lincoln Prep, Northwood-Lena had a first-round bye before defeating Cedar Creek in regional-round play. The Gators then beat St. Mary’s 54-41 in the quarterfinals before topping St. Martin’s Episcopal 62-47 in a Wednesday semifinal matchup to reach only their second championship game in school history.
Lincoln Prep coach Antonio Hudson feels his team is ready to knock that championship door down as long as they stay focused on the prize.
“They’ve been here before, they’re experienced being here – now they need to experience winning it all,” Hudson said. “And they have the talent and ability to do that.
“It’s all about focus. If this team can keep their heads in the game and play hard the whole way from start to finish on both sides of the court, then I like our chances. But that’s what it’s going to take. This school deserves it. Our community deserves it. Now we just have to take care of business and make it happen.”
A significant part of that focus will have to be on Northwood-Lena’s Omarion Layssard. The 6-3 guard nicknamed “Diddy” is averaging 21.0 points, 8.0 rounds, 3.5 steals, 2.7 assists and 1.1 blocks per game for the Gators.
Layssard totaled 21 points and eight rebounds in the semifinals win over St. Martin’s Episcopal.
The Gators dominated on the boards against St. Martin’s, outrebounding the Saints 44-29. Randarius Morris double-doubled for the Gators, totaling 17 points while pulling down a game-best 18 rebounds.
“They’re an athletic team, but they don’t look like they play a lot of guys,” Hudson said of the Gators. “That’s why we just need to make sure we keep coming hard on both offense and defense the whole game.”
And if his Panthers do that, Hudson feels they can make history by taking the eighth state boys basketball title in Grambling high school history. Grambling Lab won seven state titles over the years going back to taking the 1974 title with a 64-57 win over Brusly.
Grambling Lab also took took state in 1978 (96-78 over Boothville-Venice), 1985 (56-52 over University Lab), 1986 (59-49 over University Lab), 1989 (60-42 over North Vermilion) and 1990 (70-67 over Vermilion Catholic in OT).
“The last time we had a chance to do that was when COVID first started and they didn’t allow anybody in the stands,” Hudson said. “And without that community and school support, it didn’t happen for us in a close game.
“But this time we’ll have that support. Our crowd played a big role in keeping this team fired up and going when we beat Crescent City on Thursday. And I’ll be surprised if we don’t have an even bigger crowd there for the championship game. The players need to win it for them, and more importantly, they need to win it for themselves. We have momentum. We just have to stay focused and make it happen.”