Istrouma tops Tara, takes lead in 6-4A

It looked like a cold night at the free-throw line would doom either Tara or Istrouma when the two teams played for first place in District 6-4A on Friday night at Istrouma.

Tara was 4-for-9 from the line and Istrouma 4-for-10. But in the end, two clutch free throws by Tavin Walker with 9 seconds left that gave the Indians a 58-56 win.

The Trojans (15-7, 3-1) had once last chance to tie or win, but Istrouma’s Marquise Kaigler had a big block with 2.3 seconds left, and Josh Plain’s long 3-point attempt was short at the buzzer.

“I could have told you the intensity was going to be there,” Tara coach Larry Grantham said. “This was for the district lead. All in all, I thought our kids played really hard against a very well-coached and very physical team, but you can’t win big games if you can’t make free throws.

“We’re disappointed now, but we’ll come back.”

Tara has been a slow-starting team at times this season, but the Trojans went against that trend in this game. They used hot shooting and tough rebounding to take a 20-13 lead after one quarter.

Unfortunately for them, feast turned to famine midway through the second quarter, and Istrouma (15-6, 5-0) put together a 17-2 run to take the lead at 33-31, and the Indians held a 35-33 edge at halftime.

Istrouma coach Aaron Pearson said he thought defense was the difference in the Indians’ second-quarter turnaround.

“We had to get after it defensively,” he said. “We had to get scrappy. That’s how we like to play. We turned it up on defense and tried to limit them to one shot.

“They controlled the boards in the first quarter with their quick guards, and our big men had to exert a little more energy to box them out. Then our defense and rebounding got us some fast breaks.”

The 3-point shot was the Indians’ best friend. They drained seven 3s — four by Walker and and three by Devin Bethany, who hit his last 3 with 2:01 remaining, then fouled out on Tara’s next possession.

Walker was Istrouma’s leading scorer with 18 points, followed by Bethany with 13 and Marquise Kaigler with 12.

Shaquille Reed led Tara with 23 points. Reed had three 3s for the game, including two in the Trojans’ torrid first quarter.

Lionel Russel was Tara’s other double figure-scorer with 14.

Istrouma went up by as many as 10 in the third quarter before Tara managed a 14-4 run of its own, tying the score at 49 on a 3-point play by Reed to open the fourth quarter.

The lead changed hands five times after that before Walker hit his free throws at the end.

“Tara’s played well all year, and we knew it would be a fight,” Pearson said, “and it was a fight. Twelve rounds. You can call it a 12-rounder if you want.”