HAMMOND — John Curtis did its homework by playing all the other top teams before the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Basketball tournament.

All the top-seeded Patriots had to do was execute. And they did, racing out to an early 9-0 lead en route to 43-36 victory over No. 2 McKinley in the Division I title game played at SLU’s University Center.

“It’s a tremendous feat,” Curtis coach Barbara Farris said. “I admit, I am very demanding in terms of my expectations and work ethic. They never quit, they kept working. I told them we were preparing ourselves to be here in March and they bought in.”

Curtis (31-7) won its first title since claiming the Class 2A title in 2012 with a young team that followed the lead of freshman Jerkalia Jordan Saturday night. The 5-foot-9 Jordan was soft-spoken when the game was over. The fact that she scored a game-high 24 points on 9 of 14 shooting spoke volumes.

“I was just playing the game for my team,” Jordan said.

Point guard Dynah Jones was the facilitator, scoring 8 points and pulling down a team-high seven rebounds for Curtis, which closed out the season with a 13-game winning streak. It is the fourth girls basketball title for Curtis.

McKinley (21-7) got 17 points from Alexius Horne and a game-high 15 rebounds from Caira Wren, but struggled to handle Curtis’ pressure at crucial times in the game. In addition to giving up 11 points off turnovers in the first quarter, the Panthers were 0 of 11 from the field in the second quarter in their first LHSAA tourney final.

“Our girls came out and we fought hard,” McKinley coach Krystal Huggins Flowers said. “We never laid down, we never gave up. We had a couple of breakdowns on defense. I think nerves got the best of a couple of us.

“I know that with those (early) turnovers it was nerves. This was a big game and a big stage. That gave us a disadvantage for a while. John Curtis was also on the boards more than us in the beginning.”

Curtis seized control quickly. Jordan, who scored 14 first-half points, had two early baskets to lead the Patriots. McKinley didn’t get on the board until Horne made a 3-pointer with 5:17 left.

The Panthers scored 11 of the final 16 points in the quarter despite 10 turnovers. Curtis took its 14-11 lead and ran with it. Dajha Virgil started it off with a 3-pointer from the baseline. Jordan added a basket and a free throw to make it 20-11 less than a minute into the second quarter.

Mistakes continued to mount for McKinley. The Panthers were 0 of 11 from the field in the second quarter and turned the ball over six more times. Curtis had its own four-minute scoring drought but still led 26-14 at halftime.

The Patriots extended their lead to 14 points early in the fourth quarter. McKinley battled back to within seven on a bucket and free throw by Horne with 3:33 to go.

Curtis led by nine after three quarters. McKinley’s Zoie Harris’ 3-pointer seconds into the last quarter made it 33-27. Jordan scored eight of Curtis’ 10 fourth-quarter points to provide the separation needed to net the win.

“Jerkalia has been doing this all year long,” Farris said. “She just glides down the court. She’s a gamer. She knows what to do.”

JOSEPH HALM’S REPORT IN THE TIMES-PICAYUNE/NOLA.COM:

John Curtis 43, McKinley 36: Freshman Jerkalia Jordan scores 24 as Patriots claim fourth state title

on March 04, 2017 8:26 PM, updated March 04, 2017 9:35 PM

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL COVERAGE

HAMMOND — When John Curtis needed points, the Patriots turned to freshman Jerkalia Jordan, and the quiet forward delivered.

Jordan scored eight of her game high 24 points in the fourth quarter to power the top-seeded Patriots to a 43-36 win over No. 2 McKinley in the Division I state championship on Saturday night.

“I was just playing the game for my team and coaches,” said Jordan, who went 9-of-14 from the field with six rebounds and four steals. “I just didn’t want to get caught up in the hype. I just stay focused and kept Dynah (Jones) calm.”

The victory gave Curtis (31-2) its fourth state title and first since 2012, which was coach Barbara Farris’ first season with the Patriots. Farris said her team’s defense was the difference.

“If you’re playing defense, you can take the life blood out of a team,” she said, about her team forcing 21 turnovers. “You can take their heart, so I make it a point to say ‘Let’s stomp them in the first two minutes and force a timeout.’ They came out and let the defense do the talking.”

The Patriots held McKinley to 25 percent shooting in the first half, but the Panthers chipped away at the lead after halftime. Zoie Harris drained a 3-pointer to open fourth quarter and cut lead to six points. Alexius Horne followed with a free throw to cut it to five points with six minutes to play, and then Jordan took over.

Jordan reeled off eight straight points including four from the free throw line to push the lead back to 11 points as the Patriots cruised.

“We were so poised and concentrated and focused on beating this team,” said Curtis junior Dynah Jones, who finished with eight points and seven rebounds. “We wanted this state championship. We just stayed together as a team. They went on a run, and we still stuck together. We kept our defensive intensity.”

McKinley (21-7) was led by Horne, who finished with 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting. Caira Wren added 15 rebounds.

Panthers coach Krystal Flowers said early turnovers were critical as her team made its first state championship appearance.

“We had a couple of breakdowns on defense, but we never gave up,” she said. “I think nerves got the best of a couple of us, but we’re a young team so we expect to be back next year. I know the early turnovers were nerves. Rebounding and defense were the difference.”

Curtis came out on fire defensively opening the game on a 9-0 run. Horne’s 3-pointer snapped the run as the Patriots offense slowed late in the first quarter. Curtis committed three straight turnovers with under two minutes left as a Panthers run turned a once healthy lead into a slim 14-11 advantage.

The second quarter was a carbon copy of the opening period as the Curtis defense dominated McKinley leading to a 9-0 run over the first four minutes.

And just like the first quarter, Horne broke the run, this time with two free throws with 3:36 left in the quarter.

Curtis struggled the rest of the quarter with turnovers as McKinley turned up its pressure, but the Panthers couldn’t buy a bucket going 0-for-11 from the field finishing with just three points in the quarter.

Farris, who celebrated her fourth state title including two as a player, said her team was a pleasure to coach.

“There are no jerks on this team,” she said. “They are just good kids. They want to do well. I’m hard on them, but they just really are a fun group of young ladies. I’m very proud of these players tonight.”