Matt Allred made two clutch free throws with 1:02 remaining and Sterlington survived a helter-skelter finish for a 40-38 Class 2A playoff victory over Red River on Tuesday night.
Sterlington (25-7), the No. 7 seed, will also be at home for the second round Friday night against No. 10 Lakeview, a 97-71 winner over DeQuincy.
Sterlington can expect a faster-paced game against Lakeview (23-7) than Red River, which dictated the tempo behind a ball control offense.
Following Allred's free throws, the Bulldogs ran the clock down to 10 seconds, before missing two shots. Sterlington's fans began pouring onto the court as the clock ran down to 0:00, but order was quickly restored and .02 seconds placed back on the clock.
A hurried, potential game-tying shot actually hit the rim as the final horn sounded.
Then the celebration began — and this time no one was asked to return to their seat.
“We couldn't defensive rebound the ball at the end, but we dodged a bullet,” said a relieved Sterlington coach Kevin Caballero.
Though it was far better than last year's first round result when the seventh-seeded Panthers lost an 80-73, triple overtime decision to Evangel, Caballero was in no mood to celebrate after Tuesday night's game.
“I thought some of our kids played scared and I thought others were passive,” Caballero said. “We had no zip on our passes and no one was meeting the ball.”
With Red River eating up the clock and limiting possessions, the Panthers hurt their own cause with 18 turnovers.
“A lot of the turnovers were unforced. They weren't even pressuring us and we kept letting the ball bounce off of our hands,” Caballero said. “It's too late in the year to have to be cleaning stuff up. I don't think it was physical, I think it was mental. We didn't play to win the game. We played not to mess up.”
Scoring on two of its first three possessions, Sterlington never trailed in the first half. Allred's 3-pointer and a pair of Brandon Douglas free throws staked the Panthers to an early 5-0 lead.
After Allred's 3 on the first possession of the game, the Panthers went nearly nine minutes without a bucket.
With the Bulldogs (12-16) eating up the clock, the Panthers spent most of the game defending. When the Panthers had the ball, they usually didn't keep it for long.
“I actually thought we shot the ball pretty well. We just didn't get many shots because we kept turning the ball over,” Caballero said. “I have to give it to (Red River coach Keith Johnson) — he scouted us.”
Cameron Babers' putback at the buzzer off of a 3-point airball, drew Red River within 7-6 at the end of the first quarter.
Page 2 of 2 - “We knew coming in that they were going to try to hold the score down,” said Caballero, noting that the Bulldogs beat District 3-2A rival Winnfield 37-36. “We worked all week on not letting them drive the ball, then we got caught twice early on backdoor screens.”
Sterlington twice stretched its lead to five in the second quarter at 15-10 and 18-13, before Demarjay Miller's driving layup closed the gap to 18-15 at halftime.
Early in the second half, Babers tied the game at 18 on a long 3-pointer.
Sterlington responded with six unanswered points.
Lance Richard swished an 18-footer from the right side, Douglas followed his own miss and Allred's steal and layup put the Panthers up 24-18 — the biggest lead of the night for either side.
Red River then put together a 6-0 flurry of its own.
Kendell Ardison started the run with a jumper from the lane and Babers drilled a 3 and made one-of-two free throws to tie the game at 24.
Douglas' three-point play put the Panthers' back in front, but a tightly-guarded Babers used the glass for his third 3-pointer of the quarter, tying the score at 27.
Babers accounted for 10 of his game-high 19 points in the third period.
“(Babers) is a good player,” Caballero said. “It's tough to match up with him. I've watched teams put a guard on him. We didn't want to put Brandon on him because we didn't want Brandon too far away from the rim.”
Ardison set up a cutting Babers for a backdoor layup to open the fourth quarter scoring, giving the Bulldogs their first lead of the evening, 29-27.
After Douglas made the back side of a two-shot foul, Dayquan Russell scored from underneath to put Red River up 31-28 with just under six minutes to play.
Three-pointers by Jaylon Wade and Allred on consecutive possessions enabled the Panthers to regain the lead, 34-31.
After the two sides traded a pair of deuces, Red River's Derquez Murphy popped a wide-open 3-pointer from the right corner to knot the score at 38 with 1:36 to play.
Both teams turned the ball over on their next two possessions, before Allred was fouled on the drive. Touching nothing but nylon on either shot, Allred gave the Panthers a 40-38 lead with 1:02 to play.
“Give Matthew credit — he stepped up and hit two big free throws, late,” Caballero said.
Douglas and Allred carried the Panthers offensively with 18 and 15 points, respectively.