Lakeview guard Tay Hardy said head coach Josh Hancock asked his team a simple question in the huddle in the final minutes of Friday’s Class 2A quarterfinals against No. 10 Many.
“He said, ‘Are we gonna let it go?,’ Hardy said, referring to several Gators’ leads that dwindled throughout the game. “No. We had to do it. We had to go hard.”
Lakeview’s size and athleticism finally wore down an outgunned Many as the No. 2 Gators snatched a 72-63 win.
The Gators (27-4) make their first state tournament appearance since 2003-04 and will attempt to win their first state title since 2002-03, a team that went 41-0.
Lakeview faces No. 14 St. James, who beat No. 6 Episcopal 73-70 at home. The semifinals game is Thursday at 2:45 p.m. at Lake Charles.
“It’s a real good feeling,” said Hardy, whose team-high 25 points culminated in a pair of free throws and a dunk to quell the last Many comeback. “We got to the (quarterfinals) last year, so this is the furthest we’ve been now.
“We want to bring back a championship.”
The Gators pressure built an 18-point lead early in the third quarter, but the visiting Tigers (20-8) whittled the lead by slowing the pace. Freshman Tabarius Garner scored seven of his 18 points to start a 9-1 run Many run as the Tigers cut the lead to 51-41 late in the third quarter.
Many got as close 62-57 with two minutes remaining on an Allen Warfield 3-pointer, but Lakeview made enough free throws and stops to pull away.
“Lakeview is a bigger and better team, but I told my guys how proud I was of them,” said Many coach Ryan Vines. “We rebounded well against a team that usually lives on the offensive glass, and these guys competed extremely well and played really well.
“We had to slow the pace down from the first half … and we made some really good shots and took it one possession at a time.”
Lakeview turned up the pressure on Many’s smaller backcourt, forcing early turnovers as they grabbed a 13-2 lead.
Many settled in and closed to 22-19, but Lakeview extended the halftime edge to 39-28.
The Gators heated back up to start the second half on an 11-4 run to open a 50-32 lead, but Hancock said his team eased off the gas in the second half.
“We didn’t maintain our focus, and we missed free throws, too,” Hancock said. “We can’t afford to do that and give up so many offensive rebounds if we want to win a state championship.
“The pressure is our bread and butter, and I think they missed some shots late in the game that they were making earlier. I’m proud of these kids, but we don’t want to just reach the state tournament, we want to win it.”
Many post James Darwin scored a team-high 22 points and played a large role defensively as the Tigers’ only size against a Lakeview team that averages well above 6-foot in the lineup. The Tigers’ Josh Berry chipped in 11 points, six in the fourth quarter.
Darwin is one of only three Many seniors.
For Lakeview, Jerald Bush (10 points), Tray Kirkendoll (10 points) and Brent Toussaint (11 points) reached double figures.