January 19, 2013 11:16:57 PM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE - Starkville High School sophomore Caleb Wilson has already gained notoriety in football circles.
On Saturday night, the sophomore showed he can play some basketball, too.
Wilson scored 15 points, cause havoc on the defensive end and provided a big spark as Starkville defeated West Point 69-59 at the Bee Hive.
"This was a rivalry game, so I was really pumped," Wilson said. "These games are special. I wanted to go out, have fun and help my team. I am glad we were able to finish."
While making strides, Starkville (5-12) had not won a game in the New Year. Coach Greg Carter said his team had been starting strong. However, the element of finishing had eluded his youthful squad.
"We have been able to come out, start strong and play well on a consistent basis," Carter said. "Our problem has centered on finishing. We have had a tough time, making that final push to close out a win. I was awfully proud of how we played in the fourth quarter because we found a way to finish."
West Point (12-8) came to town one day removed from a 67-63 Class 5A, Region 2 victory against New Hope. That victory was huge for a Green Wave squad trying to defend a region title. Saturday night, it appeared the hangover was in full effect as the Yellow Jackets struck multiple body blows early.
Wilson had six points and Zeb Rice hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the first quarter. Starkville ended that quarter on a 14-2 run and led 20-7 after one period.
"We really wanted this game badly," Wilson said. "We have gotten better each game, even though we have had a hard time getting the win. Tonight, we really got everybody into the flow early and that helped us have success."
Starkville extended the lead in the early stages of the third quarter. The Yellow Jackets stretched a nine-point halftime lead into a double-digit advantage. Starkville did that on the defensive end, as Richard Evans, Avonte Amos and Wilson were scrambling on the floor for loose balls and harassing the Green Wave into turnovers with a match-up trapping defense.
West Point committed three straight charging calls as part of a stretch of seven turnovers during a nine-possession run. A 9-0 run stretched the Starkville lead to 43-26.
"It is all about defense," Starkville junior Richard Evans said. "We tried to make some things happen on that end. In the second half, we tried to finish strong. We had some trouble with the press, but we were also getting the ball back."
Evans provided a huge spark in the game's second half, with 15 of his team-high 19 points in the game's final half.
West Point also had its own offensive rally-starter. Junior Demarius Calvert scored 22 of his game-high 24 points in the game's final half. Calvert asserted his leadership down the stretch when West Point needed an answer.
After having rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to edge New Hope, West Point knew what it was like to be in a hole. Calvert scored 10 straight points as his team suddenly crawled within 63-59 with 1:45 left.
"We knew we had to go the line and make free throws," Evans said. "We weren't sure if we were going to get the calls. It was a physical game out there. But we knew if we got the calls and could get to the line, we had to make the free throws. We really finished strong."
Starkville did just that. The Yellow Jackets did get some charity tosses home. Starkville also got a monster 3-point play by Avonte Amos after breaking the West Point pressure defense.
"We really grew up in this game," Carter said. "I can't tell you how much we have talked about finishing. We talk about being in a position to make plays when the game matters most. Even though West Point trimmed the lead, we did a great job of staying focused and continuing to work hard at closing out the game."
Evans had 19 points, while Wilson added 15 points and Amos added 11. Juan Davis had 15 for West Point.
In the opener, the Starkville girls posted a 64-50 victory. Starkville led from the start, including a comfortable 39-16 advantage at halftime. The Lady Jackets withstood a furious rally in the closing minutes.
Alexis Gates had 24 points for West Point (7-11). Imane Montgomery had 19 points and nine rebounds to lead Starkville (9-6), while Blaire Schaefer had 18 points and eight assists and Kelsye Reed had 10 points.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter