By T. Scott Boatright
Many gridiron coaches say that football games are won in the trenches.
Similarly, basketball games are often won on the boards.
Northwood-Lena won that rebounding war Saturday afternoon as the top-seeded Gators took over in the second half to defeat second-seeded Lincoln Preparatory School 73-56 for the Division IV Boys Select School state championship at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
The Gators won that overall battle on the boards 39-30, but it was Northwood-Lena’s 21 offensive rebounds compared to 14 for the Panthers that made the difference – that disparity in second-chance points was too much for Lincoln Prep to overcome.
“First we’ve got to tip our hats to Northwood-Lena, they came ready to play and (Omarion) Layssard was definitely on his A-game,” said Panthers coach Antonio Hudson. “So you have to tip your hat to them. That’s a good team. They played better than us today and so they got the W.
“The stat everybody sees that’s really alarming is offensive rebounds. Coming into the game I said if we didn’t rebound we were going to struggle. And that’s what it was; minus-21 offensive rebounds is just entirely too much.”
Layssard, a senior, led all scorers with 34 points while adding 11 rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Not to be outdone, Lincoln Prep senior Bralyn Mayfield poured in 32 points while adding nine boards, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
The first half was a tight one. The Panthers grabbed their first lead of the game at 9-8 on a Mayfield Alley-Oop layup off of a pass from Brandon Heard at the 2:51 mark of the opening stanza.
And the Panthers grabbed another lead to end the first quarter on a Mayfield layup off a behind-the-back pass from Amarjae Young, who drove to the basket but instead of going for the basket flipped it back to Mayfield for the uncontested bucket that put Lincoln Prep up 15-14 heading into the second quarter.
Northwood-Lena outscored the Panthers 13-8 in the second quarter to take a 27-23 lead into the locker rooms at halftime.
But it was the third quarter, when Northwood-Lena outscored the Panthers 17-8, that the Gators started pulling away to build a 44-31 advantage heading into the final stanza.
“We have a saying where we say we try to get five stops to start the second half,” Hudson said. “We gave up a layup on the first possession they had, but after that we got four stops.”
“But we didn’t execute. We didn’t make them pay for not scoring on those possessions. And in the second half we just had too many empty possessions where we got nothing. Even when we were making a run in the fourth quarter, we forced a turnover but then inbounding the ball we fumbled the ball at the side of the goal. It’s little things like that. In order to become a champion you have to make those little things happen. (Northwood-Lena) did that, and they did a good job of it.”
Committing 18 turnovers on the day didn’t help the Panthers’ cause.
“It’s been kind of a gift and a curse,” Hudson said about the Panthers’ turnovers. “We have had turnovers problems in the past but we were able to overcome them just because of the style we play defense. They actually turned it over a bunch, too. We just didn’t score off of their turnovers.”
Kobe Mack added eight points for the Panthers, who also received seven points from Young, five from Heard and four from Tray Spann III. But despite Mayfield’s heroic effort, it wasn’t enough to stop Northwood-Lena’s inside attack on the glass led by Layssard’s nine offensive boards.
“That kid’s an athlete,” Hudson said of Layssard. “He’s a major athlete and (Randarrius Morris, who totaled 25 points and a game-high 12 rebounds) as well. But again I tip my hat off to them. We just fell short today.”
Hudson said that while the Panthers didn’t pull off earning a state title, he still felt the presence of recently-deceased legend Michael Lyons, who coached Hudson at the high school that was then known as Grambling Lab.
“I know he’s proud,” Hudson said. “You’re looking for a fairy tale ending, but I know he’s proud of me. I know he’s proud of the team. I know he’s proud of the community. He’d just tell me we’ve got to get back at it for next year.”
And Hudson stressed that the Panthers will rebound from another frustrating Final Four loss.
“We’ve got a good group coming back,” Hudson said. “We’re losing the bulk of our scoring. The leadership that they brought being here before. But I’m really glad about the young players we’ve got. Trey Spann started as a freshman. Amarjae Young is a sophomore. Devin Burton is a freshman. We’ve got another one – Dbraylon Cooper – who didn’t play much but he’s about 6-4 or 6-5. But it’s going to take some hard work in the offseason as far as us to gain skill development and keep getting better so we can get back here soon.”