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|West Monroe falls to Ouachita in semis|
The 2009 West Monroe Rebels reached a point this season that only two other Rebel squads had been able to obtain.
The Rebels reached the Top 28 tournament for the first time since 1995 under first-year coach Bakari Beckwith.
The Ouachita Lions squeaked by the Rebels for a 59-57 win at the Cajundome Thursday to abruptly end the Rebels season with a record of 26-7.
The Rebels came out hot in the first quarter where they torched the nets to gain a 16-11 advantage after the first eight minutes of play.
Ouachita made some key shots to take a slim lead at halftime and completely blew the game open in the third quarter.
Ouachita began the second-half on a 15-1 run that put the Rebels in a big hole, 40-26, but West Monroe kept fighting and clawing away at the rival Lions.
"I harped on us being able to handle their push in the first three minutes of the second half,'' Beckwith said. "I know Coach Jones. He puts a lot of emphasis on the first three minutes of the first half and the first three minutes of the second half."
And so began the run that would seemingly knock the wind out of West Monroe. All of a sudden, the Rebels rose to the occasion.
The last half of the third quarter belonged to the Rebels. Senior guard LaDarius Abrams scored six points in the third quarter and finished with seven points as the Rebels pulled to within three entering the final period of play.
West Monroe went on a 9-0 run midway through the fourth-quarter to grab a 49-47 lead with just five minutes remaining.
The seventh time the schools had played each other this season, and the third on a neutral court, proved to be another classic in the growing rivalry of two elite 5A basketball programs.
"I thought we took some ill-advised shots when we had that (14-point) lead,'' Jones said. "We took two 3-pointers that we didn't need to take.''
Corey Lacey scored 17 points to pace the Rebels. West Monroe killed momentum for themselves at the free-throw line where they converted on just 10-of-20 attempts.
Nick Haywood paced the Lions with 20 points in another master performance for one of the area's premier players.
Even with all of that, the Rebels still had one last chance to win the game. With under five seconds to play, the Rebels inbounded under the basket.
A pass to Lacey slipped through his fingers and the Lions celebrated their first ever spot in the Class 5A state championship game.
"I feel bad, because I knew I would have made it,'' Lacy said. "My fingers were just slippery.''
The Lions went on to defeat Hahnville for the school's first state championship.