RUSTON — Natchitoches Central came in to Ruston as the top-ranked team in Class 5A.
After fighting off a huge Ruston rally and finding some loopholes in the Bearcat defense, the Chiefs escaped with a 52-48 District 2-5A win on Tuesday to stay on top of the 5A basketball world.
Ruston made nothing easy for the Chiefs (27-4, 8-1 District 2-5A) as they erased a 15-point, third-quarter deficit with a 10-2 run that spanned the third and part of the fourth quarter.
Ruston got back in the game by switching defenses and making plays with its pressure.
“We changed up some things on defense and I think it caught Natchitoches Central off guard a little bit,” Ruston coach Bakari Beckwith said. “The difference for us was just our effort and energy. We were better than the way we were playing (in the first half).”
Seeing the resilency from Ruston was nothing new to the Chiefs.
“Ruston doesn’t quit,” Natchitoches Central coach Micah Coleman said. “We were standing up instead of hunkering down and they just out-toughed us for five minutes.”
Ruston got as close as 41-39 with under seven minutes to play, but the Bearcats missed several chances in the closing minutes to get closer while the Chiefs made five of their last seven free throws over the final minute to put the game out of reach.
“(Free throws) were big down the stretch when the game was on the line,” Coleman said. “It won the game. I wish we had not been in that situation. We have to do a better job of closing out the game as we get ready to go into the playoffs (next week).”
Isiah Buggs led Ruston with 22 points and Tykem Anderson added eight points. Natchitoches Central continued to show balance scoring across the board with Brandon Rachal leading the way with 14 points and Danny Cohen adding 12.
“(Natchitoches Central) is disciplined and they know exactly what they want to get on offense,” Beckwith said. “That was the biggest thing tonight. We are still figuring some things out on offense.”
Ruston (17-8, 6-3) came into the week ranked No. 15 in unofficial LHSAA power rankings and Natchitoches Central at No. 1.
The Bearcats visit Pineville on Friday for the regular-season finale while the Chiefs host Ouachita for the District 2-5A championship.
Ruston could still earn a top-16 seed and the first-round playoff home game that goes with it, but that is not a concern right now for Beckwith and his team.
“We just want to play,” Beckwith said. “We are looking forward to just being in the playoffs. We don’t see us seeing any team as good as Natchitoches Central or Ouachita so hopefully this district has prepared us well.”