Jennings dominated the start of each half Thursday to beat Leesville 56-44 in the opening game of the LaGrange War in the Swamp basketball tournament.
The Bulldogs (3-1) scored the game’s first 16 points and never trailed. Leesville crept within eight points before halftime, but Jennings opened the second half with a 13-5 run to regain control.
Chance Levi led Jennings with 27 points. Mike Williams added 12. The duo combined for 17 points in the first quarter as Jennings took a 19-6 lead.
The Bulldogs advanced to face the winner of tonight’s game between Silsbee, Texas, and Houston Marian in Saturday’s semifinals.
First-year head coach Charles Larce said defense was the key to the game-opening run.
“At the start of the game we were dictating tempo and keeping them off the glass,” Larce said. “More importantly, we were not reaching and staying in front of our man. We were doing what we wanted to do as a team. Until we become the team we’d like to be, our identity will have to be holding teams under their average and make them score on contested shots.”
Leesville found its legs after the first 6 minutes, scoring six straight points late in the first quarter and outscoring Jennings 16-11 in the second quarter to trim the deficit to eight points.
A 3-pointer by Cameron Tolliver early in the third got the Wampus Cats within seven, but a Jennings outburst stretched the lead back out to 13 a few minutes later. The Bulldogs maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
Levi started the third-quarter run with a baseline jumper. Zae Dougles scored a couple of baskets inside.
“We let that early lead go, got lazy,” Larce said. “We got complacent. We’re young. We have a long way to go. We are nowhere near our ceiling.
“We are still struggling with being a team that holds opponents under their average. This generation wants to score 100 points. We’re not that team yet. We have to take our time and make opponents take shots they don’t want. I want us to be a hard-nosed team that brings it to people whether the game is high scoring or low scoring. I want guys who will go out there and fight, give their all for each other.”
Larce said he’s confident his team will get where he wants it.
“The biggest thing is that the kids have accepted me and bought in to what we want to do,” he said. “It is rare that you find a group of kids who fall in love with you so fast, especially a senior group. I have seen coaches go into jobs where the seniors really give them the business, but our guys have not done that. They welcomed me with open arms. I can’t put into words what they have done to me already.”
Ju’liun Colbert led Leesville with 11 points.