Larry Grantham, the veteran basketball coach at Tara High in Baton Rouge, knows a thing or two about good coaching, and he saw it upclose on the other side of the court Friday at Peabody Magnet High in Alexandria.
Longtime Peabody coach Charles Smith, who lost a state championship to Grantham and Tara in 1995, worked his magic after an early timeout and again when he huddled with his young team at halftime.
Those breaks nurtured seeds that bore fruit in top-seeded Peabody's 56-40 home victory over No. 16 seed Tara (24-9) in the second round of the Class 4A boys basketball playoffs.
The Warhorses (28-5), the defending state champions without a starter back from last year, will next host No. 8 seed O.P. Walker, a 56-53 double-overtime winner Friday over Huntington, in a quarterfinal game Tuesday night.
Smith called a 30-second timeout with his Warhorses trailing the Trojans, 6-5, when both teams had been shooting poorly. The home team responded with a 9-2 run for a 14-8 lead, and the Warhorses kept the lead thereafter.
Gabriel Jordan, the junior who is the point man in Peabody's defensive press, scored seven points in that run, capped by a 3-pointer, and he shared high-point honors for the evening with Dvonte Tennie, who carried Peabody in the first half with 11 of his eventual 19 points.
"We haven't seen the zone defense that much this year, so we called that early timeout to get 'em refocused on what we had to do," Smith said, "and once we did that, they started to settle and did much better on offense."
Tara, a scrappy group that usually shoots well, refused to wilt, Instead, the Trojans rallied from a 19-10 deficit to pull within 24-23 at halftime.
That was a bit too close for Smith's liking.
"We challenged the guys at halftime to step it up on defense," said Smith. "When you get to the playoffs, you've got to play good defense, and I was proud of the way they responded. We nearly shut 'em down in the third and fourth quarters."
Early in the third quarter, Peabody went on a 10-0 run to move from a tenuous 26-25 lead to a 36-25 lead, and Tara made just three field goals in the third period, by which time Peabody led 41-30. Senior Robert Gullette (6 points) had a blocked shot, a spin move for a basket and a big defensive rebound that he followed with a hook shot to cap that 10-0 run.
In the fourth quarter, Tara managed only two field goals by its leading scorer, Josh Plain (10 points), both in the last two minutes when the outcome was virtually a given.
"We just couldn't run with them, and we (unfortunately) tried to," said Grantham, who has been coaching for more than three decades and at Tara for 21 years. "We got nothing running without our set offense about four trips in a row at one stretch.
"No. 2 can play," he added of Peabody's Tennie, who had three fouls at halftime. "Give him all the credit."
Smith credited Tennie with keeping his team in the game early, scoring with some strong moves to the basket. He also had high praise for Jordan.
"At halftime, he had 14 rebounds," Smith said of Jordan, "and he finished with about 20, I think. I think he's one of the best in the state, and he's just a junior."
Grantham, who coached former Tara and LSU star Marcus Thornton, summed up his farewell game, saying, "They took us out of our rhythm. That's what good coaches do."