LAKE CHARLES — Port Allen moved one step closer to winning back-to-back championships despite a slow start.

The Pelicans shrugged off an early 14-5 hole and pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat Lakeview 60-48 in the Class 2A semifinal game Wednesday at the LHSAA Boys Basketball tournament.

The victory sets up a rubber match with Rayville in Friday’s state title game. Rayville won the 2019 title, with Port Allen avenging that defeat with a 78-74 overtime win last year.

Tawasky Johnson led Port Allen with 16 points. Jalen Knox added 13 points. Javonte Howard led Lakeview with 17 points.

“They (Lakeview) had a great game plan,” said Port Allen coach Derrick Jones. “I thought coach (Brian) Williams did a tremendous job with his team. They played really hard and were resilient. Defensively, we picked it up in the second half and was able to generate some offense off our defense. I thought they had a great game plan. I thought he coached a heck of a game. We were just able to make some plays down the stretch.”

Port Allen led 42-37 going into the final quarter and opened the fourth on an 8-0 run to boost the lead 13.

Williams said the Pelicans' tourney experience was the difference down the stretch.

“Our guys have been down before, but not down on the big stage like this,” Williams said. “The panic set in a little bit.”

Knox was able to find creases in the Lakeview defense and exploit it throughout the game. His ball handling ability caused problems for the Gators.

“All year, coach has been trying to work me into the guard position a little bit,” he said. “I’ve been getting that experience there, so when they went man against us, they were doubling TJ (Johnson). The middle was wide open, and TJ did a great job of telling me that. Once he let me know that it was get buckets, attack the middle. Once you attack the middle, it’s pretty much open field because I can kick out to my teammates who can always hit shots for me.”

With Rayville standing in the way of two straight state titles, Johnson said the team will need to be ready to compete at a high level.

“Rayville, we’ve been preparing for them since we left off the court last year,” he said. “That’s a big topic, to go back to back also but they got a great team. We have to come and be ready to compete.”

The Hornets advanced to the finals after earning a 76-67 win over Franklin Wednesday.

“A couple of years ago Rayville was a team when I first got the job here that I looked at and said they’re doing a heck of a job,” Jones said. “We were able to beat them last year, the year before they beat us. I know a lot of people are looking forward to it. We want to play them again. We want to challenge ourselves. They’re really good. It’ll be a huge challenge for us. A challenge that we’ll be ready for. We play the schedule we play during the year to prepare for this. We play the best programs in the state and we’ll be ready to go Friday.”

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