December 22, 2012 10:37:12 PM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Noxubee County High School boys basketball team will get a lot of strong offensive nights from Jamarri Johnson.
Now, coach T.J. Billups is making sure Johnson's supporting cast is just as capable.
The Tigers found a powerful inside game in the second half of their game Friday in the opening round of the Joe Horne Christmas Invitational. Center Charles Hughes, a transfer from Starkville High, scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half as Noxubee County rolled past Starkville 82-64.
On Saturday, Holt (Ala.) edged Starkville (4-5) 58-51. The Yellow Jackets closed to 45-41 on a three-point play by Avonté Amos with 7 minutes, 5 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, but the Ironmen used a 13-3 run in the next 5:43 to pull away.
Earlier Friday, the Southaven High School girls basketball team rolled to a 69-34 victory against Starkville. Imane Montgomery paced the Lady Yellow Jackets with 10 points, while Blair Schaefer had nine and Destiny Belle had eight.
In the boys game Friday, Billups believes his team will have a really strong inside presence once it develops better chemistry with all of its players.
"Our offensive execution was outstanding," Billups said. "We shared the basketball and got everybody involved. We know exactly what Jamarri is going to give us. It is a matter of others giving us something like that, too."
Noxubee County (7-5) played its second game with its full team. Several of the Tigers missed action earlier in this season as the football team won the Class 4A state championship. For one, Johnson is glad to have the help.
"Our communication was really good," Johnson said. "You saw some of the things we are capable of doing on offense. When we drive to the basket and feed the big men, we have a chance to be pretty good. We have really grown up a lot this week."
The 6-foot-1 Hughes took over when his team needed a lift. Starkville had battled back strong from a 16-point third quarter deficit. In the third quarter, Noxubee County only tallied 16 points, with 13 of those coming from Hughes.
"We really didn't do anything differently in the second half," Hughes said. "We ran the offense the way coach wants us to run it. We just got out in transition a little better and got some turnovers. Inside, I got hot and my teammates did a great job of feeding me. We had a stretch there where we were really clicking on offense."
When the Tigers formulate a 1-2 punch like they did Friday night, other teams will have a difficult time keeping up. Johnson scored a season's second-best 29 points and the Tigers tallied a season-best 82 points. The production stands out even more considering senior DeAngelo Ballard played sparingly after picking up two fouls in the opening minutes.
"Our practice time has been really good the last couple of weeks," Billups said. "We knew eventually we would find a rhythm. The key tonight was our communication and our sharing the basketball. When we have five or six players into the flow on offense, we have a chance to become a dangerous team."
Noxubee County set the tone for a shootout early. The youthful Yellow Jackets remained in the game by staying hot from 3-point range and beating the press on a consistent basis.
Starkville never had a lead. Meanwhile, the Tigers found separation early in the second quarter. The Tigers scored five straight points to extend a 17-16 advantage. The Tigers used full-court pressure to reel off eight straight points. Two free throws by Roshawn Rice gave Noxubee County a 30-18 lead with 4:15 left in the half.
While Starkville competed, the Yellow Jackets didn't have an answer for Johnson. Fresh of a 16-point night in a 56-53 victory against New Hope on Tuesday night, the 5-foot-11 senior had 12 points in the second quarter.
Noxubee County scored the first half's final five points and led 38-24 at halftime.
"I thought we were down the way we ended the half," Starkville coach Greg Carter said. "It was really great to see the guys regain the composure and have a great third quarter. That quarter may have been the best offensive quarter we have played this season. Depth got to us in the fourth quarter and we had a hard time staying at that energy level."
Thanks to the dominance of Hughes in the paint, Noxubee County still led 48-34 midway through the third quarter. Strong play by Amos started the Yellow Jackets' rally. Amos rammed home a 3-pointer and followed with a steal and layup to bring his team within 50-42.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Ravonte' Gandy and Richard Evans brought Starkville with 54-50. Amos hit a basket as the third quarter expired and suddenly the lead had been cut to 54-52.
After allowing 28 points in the third quarter, the Tigers scored 28 points in the fourth quarter. Full-court pressure defense sparked a 10-0 run and moved the Tigers back out of danger.
The strong finish came on the heels of a late dash against New Hope. The Tigers trailed by 12 early in the fourth quarter.
"For a second straight game I thought we did a great job in the fourth quarter," Billups said. "The game had been back and forth with a lot of offense, but we played with some urgency in the fourth quarter and closed them out the way you would like to see it done."
Dewitt Clark added eight points and five assists for the Tigers. Clark scored a pair of baskets during that critical run to start the fourth quarter.
Amos led the Jackets with 15 points. Fontavious Smith added 12, while Zeb Rice had 11 and Richard Evans had 10.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter