No panic by Pilots, just a big finish to win RRAC crown

CALM COACH: Kyle Blankenship huddles with his LSUS team Tuesday night in a high-stakes home finale.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

His team was ahead 69-67 midway through the second half, which might have been good news at the time for LSUS basketball coach Kyle Blankenship, were it not for the fact that the Pilots had just blown most of a 15-point lead in all of about three minutes.

There were no great words of wisdom offered in a timeout. No great motivational message. Just a simple plan.

“We came out and just ran the same play about seven or eight times,” he said, “and we scored almost every time out of it.”

Indeed, the Pilots went on a 24-8 run over the next six minutes doing what they do best – shooting 3-pointers and attacking the glass. The result was a 104-82 win over arch-rival LSUA Tuesday night just off south Youree Drive.

The outcome clinched the Red River Athletic Conference title for LSUS with a 13-2 record (20-7 overall).

“I’m proud of my guys for not being flustered,” Blankenship said. “We told them before that it’s a game of runs and we have to have mental toughness and that’s what we showed tonight.”

It’s impressive to note that the Pilots got 37 points from their bench, but it’s even more impressive that 34 of those points came from sixth man Kevin Norman. The senior sank 9 of 11 3-pointers, adding six rebounds and six steals to cap off a career night.

“He’s from Alexandria and I know it was a pride game for him,” Blankenship said. “We’ve said we could have anybody step up, and he did.”

He wasn’t alone. Senior Leondre Washington scored 26 points, senior Jeff Boyd had 16 and junior Trey Johnson added 13.

“Guys stayed locked in and focused,” Blankenship said. “They executed what we told them to do and it worked.”

LSUS has only seven active players, so in the closing minutes, Blankenship had to re-substitute seniors back into the game to allow each of the five to get a farewell ovation from the large crowd at The Dock.

It’s hard to say whether Blankenship was happier about the 104 points his team scored or only the 82 that the high-tempo Generals could muster. “I’m just happy with the win,” he said. “No matter if we win by two or by 20. We knew if we played efficiently enough that we could (score 104).”

The Pilots closed their home season winning for the 12th time in 14 contests. “We haven’t lost very many times at home,” Blankenship said. “And I told them they had one more opportunity tonight for the seniors to protect The Dock and give the fans a show.”

LSUS will move into the conference tournament this weekend in Alexandria as the top seed.

“We did what we wanted to accomplish in the regular season,” Blankenship said. “That was to win a championship. Now we have to turn our focus to see if we can go win a conference tournament.”

Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL

PILOT PRODUCTION: Leondre Washington used jump hooks and much more to score 26 Tuesday for LSUS. (Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL).


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