Mature Huntington pulls away late, heads to No. 2 East Jefferson

Huntington coach Mack Jones said before the playoffs that a key to his team’s success was understanding that opponents will make runs and reacting accordingly.

The No. 7 seed Raiders appeared to be in cruise control up 16 points before No. 10 Wossman closed to six, but Huntington pulled away for the 71-55 win in the Class 4A second round.

“Wossman is a good basketball team … but we showed some maturity down the stretch,” Jones said of his team that consists of 10 seniors. “We talk about how you handle those runs, and I thought our guards were able to get it to the basket. Our two big guns inside Branden Sheppard and Johnny Woodard were the difference down the stretch.”

Wossman went on a 16-6 run highlighted by a Montrail Elson three-point play to close to the gap to 48-42 early in the fourth quarter.

But Huntington’s Johnny Woodard scored all 10 of the Raiders’ points in a 10-2 run to push its edge to 58-44 with 5:12 left.

Woodard re-energized a quiet home gym with two consecutive buckets before Huntington turned up the defense and the pace to rebuild a double-digit lead.

“We had to go to work,” Woodard said of the fourth-quarter push. “We deserved it, and we just had to stay focused.

“We rebounded the ball, played as a team, executed our plays and made our shots.”

A Woodard three-point play along with several Sheppard dunks sealed the win with three minutes remaining. Woodard scored 13 of his game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter, Sheppard added 10 points and Kadavion Evans contributed 14 points.

Wossman’s LaQuentin Collins, one of three seniors, scored a team-high 17 points. Jarvis Dean added 13 points.

“We just couldn’t get the big basket when we needed it,” said Wossman coach Ronnie Wilson. “We got right there, and we needed one, it didn’t fall for us.

“(Class 4A) is the SEC of Louisiana basketball, and Huntington is by far the best team we’ve played this season. But we had a good season, 26-5 ain’t bad.”

Wossman pressured Huntington into three turnovers in its first four possessions, and the Wildcats scored the first four points.

But Huntington answered with a 17-5 run to grab a 17-9 edge with six Evans’ points, five from Jakobi Malone (eight points) and four from Woodard.

Aldon Kelly, Jr., also added eight points as five Raiders scored at least eight in the win.

Huntington used free throws to protect its lead through the second quarter, making 11-of-15 in the first half to builld a 40-26 halftime lead. The Raiders made 21-of-28 free throws in the game. Wossman made just 12-of-26 from the line.

Huntington could reach the state tournament for the first time since consecutive Class 5A appearances in 2008 and 2009.

But a trip to No. 2 East Jefferson (28-3) stands in the way after they beat No. 18 Plaquemine 65-44 on Tuesday.

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