Bulldogs prepare for playoff battle on Friday

Published 8:59 pm Thursday, February 15, 2024

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The LaFayette Bulldogs are heading to Jacksonville State University to compete in the 2A Northeast Regional on Friday. The Bulldogs will be facing a talented Section team, but the coaching staff and the players believe this team is built for a deep run. 

LaFayette will load the buses and make their way to Pete Matthews Coliseum around noon. On the way, the Bulldogs are stopping at Oxford High School to get some shots up and get loose before the most important game of the season to this point. 

Section presents a unique defense that LaFayette has not seen very often this season. The Lions mainly run a 1-2-2 zone defense, but they have the ability to switch out of that defense and give different looks. 

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“They work really hard,” LaFayette coach Chase Lewis said. “They have a good 1-2-2. They have some athletic kids. They’re very active with that 1-2-2. They also can switch up and play man and go 2-3. They’ve got some good pieces on that team.”

Section plays more of a team-oriented style of basketball, but the Lions are led by senior point guard Josh Varner. Varner is a dangerous player off the bounce, and the Lions have plenty of shooters around him.

“He’s like their energy guy,” Lewis said. “He can get up and down. He goes to the lane, he’s got a good spin move and he finishes pretty well. He’s like their engine from what I’ve seen.” 

The Bulldogs have mainly focused on shooting this week in practice. LaFayette has also spent time this week getting used to the feel of a college court. 

College courts add an extra ten feet of length to the court and college courts have rolling rims instead of goals that come from the ceiling. The Bulldogs practiced at Southern Union earlier this week to get acclimated to the differences. 

“We’ve got a pretty good offensive plan for their 1-2-2,” Lewis said. “We don’t get to play here at LaFayette anymore. We took care of business in a positive way. We knew that we had to get on a college court and get some practice on a college court.” 

The plan for the Bulldogs is to stretch the defense out and hit shots from the outside. Players like Jordan Johnson, Jayden Thomason, Cameron Thomas and Tae Towles have stepped up at different times this season to give LaFayette consistency from the perimeter. 

However, Lewis believes that LaFayette’s ability to stretch the Lions out on Friday will largely hinge on senior Vaderrian “Tae” Story.
“He’s the main guy that it starts with for us,” Lewis said. “We know it starts with Tae. If Tae comes out, shoots the ball well and opens things up for everybody else, everybody can kind of contribute to that. He’s the leader as far as that scoring aspect for us.” 

Deaundra Vines will be another major factor in LaFayette’s perimeter attack on Friday. Vines serves as the main facilitator for the Bulldogs, and he is also one of the team’s best shooters. 

Last season, LaFayette saw its season come to an end during regionals at Jacksonville State in a tough loss to Pisgah. This season, the Bulldogs have their sights set on a state championship. LaFayette is a lot different from the team that fell to Pisgah last season, and the coaching staff believes that will show on Friday. 

“A little bit more of a togetherness type team,” Lewis said. “I think we have a little bit more experience because we graduated three guys, two starters, last year. I’m bringing back a core with Dra Vines, Tae Story and Bebe Story. Those are three guys that started in that game last year. I think last year, the moment was probably a little bit overwhelming for them.” 

Free-throw shooting sank the Bulldogs last season. The ending to last season left a sour taste in LaFayette’s mouth, and the team has been waiting for redemption all season. 

“This point in the season is the point I think we’ve all been wanting to get back to kind of fix those wrongs,” Lewis said. “These guys love basketball. School kind of gets a little boring after basketball season. So we want to keep it going.” 

The mentality for LaFayette this season is just different. The Bulldogs have had a renewed focus this week in practice, and the energy at each practice has been palpable. 

“These guys go hard in practice,” Lewis said. “Practice has been great because film sessions have been great. We’ve been having fun too.” 

The LaFayette Bulldogs will play in the last slate of the Northeast Regional as the team faces Section at 8:30 P.M. ET on Friday.