With Louisiana Tech football coach Skip Holtz looking on from high atop the Airline gym, the Ruston Bearcats started strong and finished the same way in getting past the Airline Vikings 56-47 on Tuesday night.
Holtz was in town to watch son Chad pump in 8 points for the Bearcats (9-5), who didn’t put up big offensive numbers, but scored consistently throughout the contest. Ruston built a 16-point second-half lead, and although the Vikings (6-10) trimmed it to four on a Larry Robinson 3-pointer with four minutes to play, the Bearcats closed it out at the free throw line.
“I knew Airline was going to fight on their home floor and that they wouldn’t give up – this is 5A basketball,” Ruston coach Bakari Beckwith said. “We knew coming in that Airline was a well-coached team. Chris (White) does a good job. We were just happy to pull out a win.”
Ruston jumped out to an early lead and never gave it up despite several runs by the Vikings. The Bearcats led 16-7 after the first quarter thanks to three consecutive buckets from Junior Vernon to close the frame. Airline was held to just 14 first-half points against a swarming Ruston defense.
“We dig ourselves a hole in the first half and then we fight like crazy to come back. That’s been the story of our season,” White said. “If we ever put four quarters together, we might be a good team. I think the Southwood game was the only one where we played the entire four quarters.”
Led by 14 points from Tykeme Anderson, who converted all six of his field goals after intermission, Ruston managed its largest lead at 31-14 after the opening bucket of the second half. When Noah Hildebrand slipped in a bucket underneath with a minute remaining in the third quarter, the deficit was trimmed to 39-32.
Then when Robinson pumped in a 14-footer, two free throws and his 3-pointer on consecutive trips down the court midway through the fourth quarter, the Vikings were within 48-44 with a chance.
But Anderson and Jakovin Carter scored on short jumpers to get the Ruston lead back up to 52-44 with less than two minutes remaining. Carter and Tre Brown converted free throws to finish things off.