Northside's Paul McZeal (23) drives to the basket during the Vikings' 67-55 win over Peabody to advance to the Top 28. / Leslie Westbrook/The Advertiser
In what was a text book display of how to defend and using your defense as your offense, the Vikings made the Peabody Warhorses look merely like another bump in the road as they defeated the perennial powerhouse 67-55 in the Class 4A quarterfinals to advance to the Top 28 for the second consecutive year.
“To win the way we did against a quality basketball team like Peabody is great,” said Vikings head coach Devan Clark, whose team will face East Jefferson in the Class 4A semifinals at 8 p.m. Thursday in Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles. “We better stay in front of guys defensively if we plan on winning. Defense is what we hang our hat on.”
The Vikings’ defense dominated the Warhorses in the first half as they held them to four points in the first quarter and 11 points in the second en route to a 30-15 halftime advantage. That proved to be more than enough of an advantage in the second half as it helped the Vikings weather the storm of a couple of Peabody rallies in the third and fourth quarter as the lead didn’t fall below nine.
“Defense,” Clark said. “That’s what we do. We are really locked in on the defensive side of the court. The difference now is that we are trying defensively. We’re not being lazy or waiting for someone else to do it for us. If you’re not playing defense then you are not going to play. I love the way we are playing defensively. That’s what it is all about.”
All season, the Warhorses have been undersized on the inside and yet they’ve been able to rise above it in order to enjoy the success their program and fan base has become accustomed to. But their lack of size in the post was exposed early and often by the Vikings’ senior forwards Gerard Andrus and Paul McZeal.
“The game was won in the paint,” Warhorses head coach Charles Smith said. “We knew coming into this game that Northside had some great post players and that we were undersized in the post. Their post players did their job because they banged us up in the post.”
The Warhorses struggled defending Andrus and McZeal, who combined for 35 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. Andrus finished with a game-high 21 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, while McZeal contributed with 14 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
“I have to come out ready to play every game,” McZeal said. “I feel like as a senior I have to come out and set the tone so the rest of our team can follow.”
“They both made shots that I thought was just unbelievable,” Smith said. “I mean, they really made some incredible shots around the rim and that proved to be the difference in the game.”
That type of dominance on the block is exactly what Clark has come to expect from his senior leaders.
“They are the heart and soul,” Clark said. “We play basketball the way it is supposed to be play form the inside to the outside. They came out like seniors should come out to play.”
In the losing effort, the Warhorses were led by Gabriel Jordan, who scored a team-high 16 points, Jacoby Ross, who finished with 14 and Cedric Russell, who contributed with 12.
“I knew that we would rally back in the game and we did,” Smith said. “We were able to put some pressure on them and turn them over a little bit in the third quarter. But then their big guys stepped up and bailed them out against our press. You know, those guys are so athletic and their ability to put the ball on the floor made it hard for us to continue to turn them over.”
As they move one step closer to reaching the title game, Clark admits he likes what he sees from his Vikings.
“You know we have a different look in our eyes right now,” Clark said. “Our communication level is better, the support is better and we are simply playing for each other. We’re holding ourselves accountable and that’s been the biggest difference for us.”