The Orange Leader
Riding a superb defensive wave throughout the game and utilizing the hot hand of Chase Rutledge in the first half and Deionte Thompson in the second half, the West Orange-Stark Mustangs stormed past the LaMarque Cougars 60-50 in Class 3A Region III area round playoff action at Buccaneer Gym at East Chambers High School.
The Mustangs (27-8) jumped out to a 12-2 cushion over the Cougars (19-13) and maintained the lead the entire way even though LaMarque cut it to six on three different instances.
Rutledge fired in a team-high 19 points, 12 of them coming in the first half in which he hit two three-pointers.
Thompson, who was dominant on the defensive end throughout, had 14 points and team-high seven rebounds.
He scored nine of his points in the third period that helped stifle a LaMarque run.
“I’m so proud of our effort on the defensive end,” said Mustang coach Jason Wilkins. “We stressed that we had to get better defensively because I didn’t think we gave a complete effort in our win over Coldspring on Monday. The kids responded and got after it the entire four quarters. We’re definitely excited about it, it’s been awhile since WO-S has been past the area round.”
The last time the Mustangs got past the area round, they advanced all the way to 3A State Tournament in 2006.
The Mustangs now move on to face District 22-3A champion Cleveland in the regional quarterfinals next week.
WO-S senior standout Laquarious Paige, the Mustangs’ top scorer for the season, was held to just two points, those coming on a fierce dunk in the first quarter.
“One thing that is great about this team is that we have kids that can step up when someone else struggles,” said Wilkins. “Laquarious didn’t have a great game tonight but we all know what he’s capable of. That happens to the best of us sometimes. We have so many kids that can contribute and I never have to question the effort our kids put out.”
LaMarque was led by shooting guard Anthony Shinette, who finished with a game-high 20 points and a team-high six rebounds. Shinette kept the Cougars in it with 17 points in the second half, 10 of them coming in the third.
The WO-S pressure ate away at the Cougars, who finished with 25 turnovers while the Mustangs had just 15.
WO-S got a three-pointer apiece from Rutledge and senior guard Brandon Joubert, who finished with nine points, to get the Mustangs going early in the first period.
The Cougars scored five of the last seven points to trail 14-7 going into the second quarter.
Both units struggled on the offensive end in the second period as WO-S carried a 24-17 lead at intermission.
Rutledge kept the Cougars at bay though by scoring seven of his points in the period, including a three-pointer.
“We leaned on our defense in that first half and Chase got hot,” said Wilkins. “Chase is one of those guys that has the green light to put it up. When he’s hot, he’s tough for anyone to handle.”
The Mustangs led 31-21 with six minutes left in the third but the Cougars cut it to 31-26 after a Shinette three-pointer.
That’s when Deionte Thompson took over as he converted a pair of layups after steals and scored two more big buckets in the paint to push the lead back up to 38-26 with 3:12 in the third.
“Deionte was all over the place and he gave them a nightmare, especially in the second half,” said Wilkins. “The best thing about it is that he forced those turnovers into some easy baskets for us.”
The Cougars, behind the shooting of Shinette, crept back to within 41-34 at the end of the period.
A Devonta Allen jumper got the Cougars to within 43-38 with 5:26 left but that would be as close as the Cougars would get as the Mustangs exploded for seven unanswered points.
Post Tavin Terrell scored a big bucket inside. Rutledge ripped his third three-pointer of the night and Thompson drove in for two more to make it 50-38 with less than four minutes left.
The Mustangs outrebounded the Cougars 31-29.
WO-S finished 11-of-19 from the free-throw line while the Cougars converted 10-of-15.
Post Ty Thompson added seven points and five boards for WO-S. LaDarion Ellis-Jones added seven points for the Cougars.