WALKER – Just when it appeared Walker may be vulnerable down the stretch, the Wildcats reminded everyone why they’re still the reigning Class 5A state champions.
The Wildcats uncharacteristically turned the ball over twice late in the fourth quarter in the face of frenetic pressure from Live Oak, but second team All-State guard Jalen Cook helped to serve as a calming effect and steered the Wildcats to a 64-58 District 4-5A victory Tuesday in the school’s new gymnasium on Senior Night.
Cook scored 13 of his team-high 20 points in the final quarter and wound up scoring 12 of his team’s final 15 points, including a layup after a turnover with 10.7 seconds to play that sealed the victory and a share of the district championship.
Walker (24-9, 5-0 in district) can win the league’s outright crown Friday at Central. Brian Thomas added 13 points and Trent Montgomery nine.
“I just had to take over,” Cook said. “I really wasn’t playing well in the first half and didn’t really score in the third quarter. I just had to play hard, go out and score for my team. Just get the win. We had to instill our will, just play our best at the end.”
The third meeting of the season between the two parish rivals was more reminiscent of their Dec. 8 matchup when Walker held off Live Oak 68-63 in the championship game of the Livingston Parish Tournament.
The Wildcats won 69-59 at Live Oak in a non-district game Jan. 11.
“It was a good game,” Walker coach Anthony Schiro said. “Live Oak came in and played hard, they played well. They did a lot of things that took us out of our comfort zone. It’s hard to beat a good team three times in a season and they’re a good team. There’s no doubt about that.”
Live Oak’s second close call with Walker this season came at a time where the Eagles (17-13, 1-5) were searching to restore some of their confidence to early-season levels when they started the season 11-0 before falling in the parish final to the Wildcats.
The Eagles have been beset by a series of tough losses, including eight setbacks in their last 10 games – all of which were by 10 points or less.
“It was a better effort than we’ve been giving,” said Live Oak coach John Capps, whose team concluded its regular season. “I thought the guys deserved a better result. For once we competed. They met most of the goals that I had. That was the best defensive effort we’ve had a in while.”
Twin brothers Bryan Bayonne and Vince Bayonne led the Eagles in scoring with 20 and 17 points, respectively, while Lawrence Pierre added 12.
Walker, which led 14-10 after the first quarter and 30-26 at halftime, led 49-45 with 5:50 remaining after Pierre made a pair of free throws.
That started a red-hot stretch for Cook, who prior to the fourth quarter, had made two field goals and had seven points.
“I know Jalen took over there for a while in the fourth quarter, but for three quarters I felt we did as good a job as we could do,” Capps said. “He’s elite. Same thing with (Brian) Thomas. The other guys hurt us, but you can’t stop everybody.”
The fourth quarter for Cook included a free throw at the 6:14 mark but it was after Pierre’s two free throws where he really went to work.
Cook made six consecutive six shots – all inside the paint area – and fed Donald Butler for another basket. He began with a steal and layup, hit a driving 10-footer, a pull-up jumper, another driving layup and got inside of Live Oak’s defense for runner that made it 61-53 with 1:24 remaining.
Walker made 8 of its 9 shots in the fourth quarter and shot 65.2 percent (15 of 23) in the second half, compared to Live Oak’s 46.4 (13 of 28) percent.
“He wasn’t having his best game,” Schiro said of Cook. “He wasn’t shooting the ball well and Live Oak’s defense collapsed on him. When he needed to make big shots, he made big shots. That’s the type of player he is. It’s hard to keep a guy like that down the whole game. When we needed him to do it, he did it and I was proud of that.”
After DaDa Capling made a 3-pointer for Live Oak, cutting Walker’s lead to 61-56 with 1:10 to go, the Eagles’ full-court pressure forced a turnover that Darian Ricard converted into a layup, making it a one-possession game with a minute to play.
Following a timeout, the Wildcats turned the ball over on a bad pass in the front court, but the Eagles were guilty of a walk and subsequently a bad pass over a five-second span – the second of which Cook turned into a game-sealing layin.
“We know Live Oak’s going to play hard every time they play us,” Cook said. “We know they have players that can score. They’re a good team that plays hard. We just had to come out in the fourth quarter and play harder, to play our best.”
Walker, which honored seniors Calvin Watson, Anthony Bell, Graham Smith and Montgomery before the game, went on a 10-2 run for a 24-12 lead midway through the second quarter on Bell’s 3-pointer.
The Wildcats maintained a double-digit lead (30-20) on a 3-pointer from Watson when the Eagles scored six unanswered points over the last 46.4 seconds and trailed by three points at halftime.
The Bayonne twins each scored two points and Bryan fed Vince for a baseline drive with three seconds left to trail Walker by three points at halftime.
“Sometimes it doesn’t bounce your way,” Capps said. “Credit to Walker. I felt like we gave them a pretty good shot, they still took it and found a way to win. That’s what state champions do.”
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