CLOSE IT OUT- Independence guard Genord Perry celebrates as the Tigers advance past the LHSAA 2A first round playoffs with a wild 62-60 finish over MLK Charter. Photo by Matthew Roy.
By Jesse Brooks
The Independence boys basketball team advanced past the first round of the LHSAA 2A playoffs on Friday, February 23 after defeating MLK Charter 62-60 in a game that went down to the wire.
Inside of a minute of the fourth quarter, the Tigers were tied with the Jags 60-60 despite once holding a commanding lead in the third quarter. After the Jag’s 11-4 run, the ball was inbounded to junior De’Angelo Gaines who set up the offense and fed senior forward Melvin Baker who won the battle for inside position in the paint. Without hesitation, Baker got off a turnaround one-handed runner to take a 62-60 lead with just under 30 seconds left to play.
Senior Melvin Baker’s game winning shot. Photo by Matthew Roy.
The Tigers were able to get the ball back through a steal and possibly seal the game when freshman Jaden Howard was sent to the line, but two missed free throws would give MLK Charter one final chance. The Tigers opted to defend the length of the floor which resulted in an altered shot by a Jaguar that rolled off the rim as time expired.
“I thought we had pretty good defense for them to have to take a fall away runner considering we missed two free throws to give them the opportunity to take that shot,” Misita said. “Defense was great in the first quarter and then we kind of figured them out. Then they figured us out. So it turned more into a shootout in the second half.”
The game started as a low scoring affair, ending with an 11-9 lead for the Tigers after the first quarter. That changed halfway through the second quarter when Howard nailed back-to-back 3-pt. shots that helped launch a 15-3 run for the Tigers. With 1:22 remaining in the first half, the Tigers held a 28-23 lead. Right before the half ended, Howard grabbed a steal and missed a shot, but Baker was there for the clean up. Tigers would lead 30-23 at half time.
Freshman guard Jaden Howard. Photo by Matthew Roy.
The Tigers turned in their best quarter in the third as they commanded a majority of offensive possessions. On consecutive defensive possessions, Baker, who led the Tigers with 18 points, grabbed defensive rebounds and led fast breaks the other way to assist streaking scorers. The Tiger went into the fourth quarter leading 51-43.
Gaines also connected on a 3-pointer, and Perry got a eurostep layup to fall in to go up 56-49 with 4:33 left in regulation, but MLK Charter was not done. Three straight three pointers would be what tied the game up for the Jaguars.
“In the last two minutes, our backs were against the wall and we found a way to win the game,” Misita said. “I was really proud of that.”
Misita also praised his squad for stepping up when the defense was focused on slowing Baker down. Gaines was the Tigers’ second leading scorer with 15 points. Michael Otkins contributed 11 points, and Howard totaled 10 points.
On Tuesday, February 27, Independence will take on No. 3 Many on the road in the second round at 6:30 p.m. Many has an overall record of 20-8.