DERIDDER – Leesville struggled to knock down shots early but found its rhythm in the second half to pick up a tournament victory over a rival.
The Wampus Cats hit four 3-pointers in the second half to defeat DeRidder 52-46 Friday night at the Benoit Motors Christmas Classic at DeRidder High School.
"It's a big-time win for us and a confidence builder," Leesville head coach Rickie Dixon said. "My guys were already up because it is DeRidder. The one thing I was focused on and worried about was our attention to details – boxing out, closing out, not giving up stuff on the backside, confining shooters and recognizing where they are. We did those for most of the game and were able to stay close at the end."
DeRidder led early and found success in the paint but could not sustain its offensive consistency.
"I liked the way we played in the first half – our defense, our tempo, our intensity and the way we controlled everything," DeRidder head coach Edwin Kelly said. "In the second half, I felt like we got too comfortable and became complacent. They were able to take advantage of it. They came out and were hot."
The Dragons led 25-18 at halftime, but the Wampus Cats opened up the half on a 17-4 run to take a 35-29 lead.
"It's a four-quarter game, and over the game, guys are going to get tired and get more focused," Dixon said. "Then, they will play better. It's just staying the course and staying composed. Eventually, you will hit shots, then things will build off that."
A layup by DeRidder (4-9) guard Josiah Shelton tied it up with six seconds to go in the third quarter, but Shelton went out with an injury after a hard landing following the basket.
"Whenever is Josiah is out, we get short handed when it comes to ball handling," Kelly said. "Josiah and LaDarius (Dixon) usually handle the ball for us."
In the fourth quarter, Leesville (5-10) forward Quan Williams scored nine straight points to put Leesville up 49-42 with 1:20 to play.
Williams went 3-for-4 from the free throw line in the final minute to seal the win for the Wampus Cats.
"It's been a transition because the guys had new terminology, a new concept and new everything," Dixon said about coming into the program. "Quan plays safety, so I know he has good ball skills. He's in the back of my press to make reads, get steals and easy buckets. Plus, he can handle the ball and shoot it. He's a threat all over the court."
Williams led Leesville with 17 points, and Carlos Pagan-Sepulvado added 14 points.
"Carlos is high energy," Dixon said. "He's a tough kid. He's come a long ways. Day 1, in that early period, there was a lot of back-and-forth. We had our coming to Jesus moments, and I had to let him know that I can help him."
Kamhori Pruitt also finished in double figures for Leesville with 13 points.
KJ Gooden led DeRidder with 14 points, and Shelton (11) and DJ Griffin (10) finished in double figures.
"We want to work toward having a true power game, inside-out," Kelly said. "The problem is getting all five guys to buy in. Sometimes, it gets difficult when you don't have all five buying in."