MONROE — Ouachita insisted there would be no letdown on senior night.
Friday night and Natchitoches Central are looming, but first up on the schedule was Alexandria Senior High. And up the Trojans were, shooting the lights out and leading by as many as eight at one point.
As Cephus Gix came to life in the second half, so did the Ouachita offense as the Lions (28-3, 8-1 District 2-5A) rallied and knocked off ASH 71-61 at the Madhouse on Millhaven.
“It went about like I expected early with it being senior night and ASH shot the ball well. When they’re making shots, they’re tough to handle,” Ouachita head coach Casey Jones said. “We made some adjustments to try and close up those lanes and make them take tough, contested shots.
“The important thing was our big three inside — Jay Gill, Cody Little and Jay Head — did a good job limiting them to one-shot opportunities in the second half.”
Operating out of spread looks that sometimes even had all five players out of the paint, ASH hit two 3s in the first quarter while jumping out a 17-16 lead.
The Trojans (22-8, 3-6) continued their hot shooting in the second quarter as they jumped out on a 9-2 run. J.D. Williams and Chris Lewis hit 3s on back-to-back possession that gave ASH a 36-28 lead at the half.
Ouachita found its opportunities of attacking the dribble limited in the first half against ASH’s zone, but the Lions kept themselves around with defense and rebounding.
“Coach just told us at halftime to push it and play defense, and defense made offense for us in the second half,” said Gill, who finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
Gill and D’Majio Richard lit the fuse on an 8-3 run that pulled Ouachita within three early in the third quarter. After pulling within a point but falling back behind twice, Gix finally gave Ouachita a 53-52 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
ASH had someone to contest every one of Gix’s shots in the first half, but the sophomore got loose for 10 of his 18 points in the third quarter.
“You say to yourself, ‘Can he really hit five or six in a row?,’ and you just hope he can’t because you’re doing everything right defensively,” ASH head coach Alan Tinsley said. “We had some costly turnovers that kept us from making it a better game in the fourth, but what changed the game was Gix making shots.
“I don’t know what more you can do when a kid is making it from 26 feet out.”
Ouachita scored the opening 10 points of the fourth quarter and put the game away from there. ASH didn’t manage a point until the 4:05 make when Williams hit his fourth 3.
Gill’s double-double, Gix’s 18 and Richard’s 10 gave Ouachita three players in double figures.
Williams led the Trojans with 14.
Ouachita now turns its attention to defending Class 5A state champion Natchitoches Central in a winner-take-all matchup for the District 2-5A title. The Chiefs (27-4, 8-1) were a 52-48 winner over Ruston Tuesday night. Sophomore Brandon Rachal led the way with 14 points, while senior Danny Cohen added 12.
“We’ll prepare the next two days for Natchitoches, but it’s not a big secret,” Jones said. “We know what they’re going to do and they know what we’re going to do.
“It’s going to be a hostile environment, but we’ve been there before. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”