The last time Byrd played and won a home playoff game (2001) current LSUS athletic director Chad McDowell was the team’s coach, current LSUS head coach Kyle Blankenship was the starting point guard and the late, great prep writer Jim Dawson was covering sports for The Times.
The Yellow Jackets apparently like to take time between home playoff contests to savor the moment. There was a lot of savoring on the Byrd sideline on Tuesday night following an 80-65 win over a West Jefferson team that didn’t have the depth to match Byrd’s basketball by committee.
Coach Rusty Johnson’s club simply wears most teams down. They harassed a tired Buccaneers squad into 10 fourth-quarter turnovers to blow open a tight game.
“Last year we were the only 5A team to make the playoffs with a losing record and the guys knew that,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a big turnaround in a year’s time and we continue rebuilding this program.”
Despite shooting seven more free throws than Byrd in a road contest, West Jefferson coach Russell Jones showed his team the true meaning of sportsmanship by stomping away from the media after the game grumbling about the officiating.
For the Yellow Jackets, it was a case of throwing a smothering defense at a team that had size inside in center D’Aquin Withrow (17 points) and a silky smooth guard in sophomore Jonathan Dalton (19 points).
Byrd countered with speed in Tim Gaines (12 points), quickness in Justin McPhail (18 points) and length in senior Jalen Bowers (12 points). The difference maker on this night, however, was sophomore Chad Lott, who muffed a fourth-quarter dunk, attracting muffled laughs from the Yellow Jacket faithful, but poured in 31 points on the night.
Lott was unstoppable on the wings and on dribble-drive penetrations. He also slammed through two more dunks after his miss, as Byrd turned the late going into a dunk-a-thon against a worn out bunch of Buccaneers.
“Since we haven’t had a home playoff game in 13 years, everybody was down on us, talking like it was gonna be an upset,” Gaines said. “So we had to make it our goal to go on and win and really show’em.”
The visitors looked solid in the early going, holding a lead until Bowers putback a teammate’s miss midway through the first quarter. But that ignited an 11-0 Byrd run, including a couple of layups off steals by McPhail, to push Byrd in front 23-16 by the end of the first quarter. After falling behind by 13 early in the second quarter, West Jefferson fought back to within 35-34 at half after converting 11-of-13 first-half free throws.
The team’s combined for 44 points in a rip-roaring third quarter that included a key dunk of a miss by Byrd’s David Holmes. Byrd led 59-54 after three, while a 10-1 Yellow Jacket run in the first four minutes of the final frame finished off the Buccaneers.
Byrd will have its hands full on Friday playing at No. 2 seed Scotlandville, which defeated St. Paul’s 102-50 on Tuesday.
“They have six Division I signees and a couple of 6-9 kids, so it will be tough,” Johnson said. “But we’ll see.”