Huntington Raiders' seniors ready for last run

Huntington Raiders' seniors ready for last run

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Huntington Raiders' seniors ready for last run

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Huntington senior Branden Sheppard knows the playoffs are win or go home, but in the back of his mind, “there was always next year.”

For Sheppard and Huntington’s 10 seniors, it’s now or never.

“This year, there is no next year,” said Sheppard, a 6-foot-9 forward and a Louisiana Tech signee. “It’s a good thing we have 10 seniors because we’re even more experienced and mature.

“Everyone is a leader on the team.”

The No. 7 seed Raiders (24-2) have the fewest losses in all of Class 4A, and they have aspirations of the program’s first state title. That journey begins Friday at 7 p.m. when they host No. 26 Franklin Parish (12-15) in the first round.

Huntington completed its regular season on Feb. 14 with a 94-47 win against North DeSoto, and the Raiders are attempting to stay sharp during their two-week layoff.

That hasn’t been a problem says coach Mack Jones, who is in his 11th season.

“They’ve been having a workman-like attitude … and have been coming to practice and doing what they need to do,” Jones said. “When I give them a day off, they’re like, ‘Coach, we need to practice.’

“It’s good to see that they’re mature enough to know that it doesn’t just happen without working.”

Not all 10 seniors have been in the program for four seasons. Starting guard Kadavion Evans is in his first season at Huntington after transferring from Calvary.

“I’ve never been in the playoffs, and my teammates keep telling me how tough it is,” Evans said. “This team has had a chip on its shoulder from the past couple of years.

“Everybody had to find their role so that we can make it all the way.”

Defining roles for 10 seniors isn’t easy with only five starting spots, but Jones said the team’s ability to not fight over shots or minutes has been a key to success.

“This group doesn’t talk about scoring or who scored what,” Jones said. “In district play, we didn’t have anybody averaging 20 points. We had four players in double figures.

“We share the ball, and some nights we are almost too unselfish. They talk about winning, trying to do things the right way, and it’s been a joy to have these seniors play their role.”

Jones used Evans as an example, a transfer who is now starting. Players like Aaron Roberson and Riley Anderson can lead the team in scoring off the bench. Other key contributors include Johnny Woodard, Demetric Alexander, Jakobi Malone, Aldon Kelly Jr.,

“The guys could have been upset by the minutes he’s playing, but they’re OK with that,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, it’s about winning. They welcomed him, and it feels like he’s been here forever because guys hang out with him at his house or go pick him up.”

Huntington’s had past playoff success, including two Class 5A trips to the semifinals in which the Raiders were the No. 1 seed (2008-09). Huntington received its fourth straight top 10 seed in Class 4A, which included a second-round appearance this past season and consecutive quarterfinals appearances.

This season’s Raiders won all 10 District 1-4A games, all by double digits except a nine-point win at No. 19 seed Fair Park.

Only six of Huntington’s wins have been by single digits, and the Raiders’ two losses — to 5A No. 3 Byrd and 3A No. 4 Richwood — have been by a combined six points.

“We’ve gotten leads but we’ve done it the right way,” Jones said. “We are able to withstand teams’ runs, and this team has the maturity to know that runs will happen.

“This team is lengthy and athletic like those (semifinals) teams, but we’re deeper this year. We know the playoffs are a grind … and it ain’t about how many you win by in the playoffs, it’s about live and advance.”

Huntington’s been accomplishing that goal through it’s mix of inside and outside play along with ball-denying defense.

“That’s when we are at our best,” Sheppard said. “We can start inside or outside, and we can make the 3-pointer or if you take that away, our posts can got to work. If you take that, then our guards will go back to work.”

The Raiders are considered one of the top 4A programs, but they want to be an elite program like a Peabody.

“We feel like not a lot of people are looking at us even though we have the best record in 4A, but we’re the No. 7 seed,” Evans said.

Sheppard added, “That’s motivation for us. We want to show everyone that we do belong.”

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