January 30, 2013 12:49:52 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
Starkville Academy boys basketball coach Mark Alexander begged senior Carnail Minor to play with more urgency.
Request made. Request answered.
Minor scored nine of his game-high 21 points in the two overtime periods as Starkville Academy knocked off arch-rival Heritage Academy 56-49 Tuesday night.
"During a timeout in the second quarter, I really got on Carnail," Alexander said. "I don't do that very often. He is the smartest basketball player I have ever coached. He normally doesn't need motivation or encouragement."
Minor said his coach's message was simple.
"He told me to take the game over," Minor said. "I felt like I did just that."
He did indeed.
With 32 seconds left in regulation, Minor hit the game-tying 3-point basket. In the first overtime, Minor hit a go-ahead 3-point basket with 1:32 left. On Heritage's next possession, Minor drew a charge, fouling out Patriots' center David Hardy. At the end of the first overtime, Minor got a critical block shot to extend the contest by four more minutes.
In the second overtime, Minor scored six of his team's seven points to pull out the win.
"This is my second year here and I have really learned what this rivalry is all about," Minor said. "On the charge play, I knew (Hardy) was going to dip his shoulder when he went to the basket. It was important to step in there and get the ball back. "
Even though the longtime rivals waited until the final stretch of the regular season to play, the contest certainly lived up to the hype. Ironically, the rematch is Tuesday in Starkville.
"Since they won the state (championship) in football, we wanted to come here and beat them in basketball," said Starkville Academy senior Brandon Sharp, who postgame held tightly to a huge ice pack over a bump to his head. "Every game with Heritage is really intense and physical. We had a lot of fun out there tonight. It feels great to get this win at their place."
The lead changed hands six times and there were six ties. After scoring a combined 17 points over the game's first three minutes, an intense, physical battle set in on the defensive end.
The Volunteers (14-12) held a 14-10 lead early in the second quarter but only managed one field goal in the period and trailed 21-16 at halftime.
The Patriots (10-15) would extend the lead to as many as six points but could not pull away.
"We have been in so many close games this year that we feel confident there at the end," Alexander said. "For the most part this year, we have been able to build a lead and the other team has had to play our tempo. What made this win so great is we were behind and we had to find a way to come back.
"This was our third or fourth overtime game this year and we have had eight or nine games decided at the buzzer. You could tell we played with more confidence there at the end. The experience from our close games really helped us tonight."
Sharp and Minor made sure the Volunteers rallied.
A 3-point play by Minor with 1.3 seconds left in the third quarter completely erased the deficit and forced a 30-30 tie after three quarters. In the fourth quarter, brilliant point guard play by Sharp allowed the Volunteers to have a chance. Sharp preceded Minor's critical 3-pointer with one of his own to also tie the teams with 1:23 left.
"I feel like (Coach Alexander) wants the ball in my hands in the end like I am the best point guard in the (Mississippi Association of Independent Schools)," Sharp said. "In a close game, we feel like there isn't anybody who can beat us, because nobody can stop us from getting what we want."
Still, new life in overtime was not guaranteed until Caleb Merchant scored a game-tying basket on a backdoor play with two seconds left. The Patriots defense swarmed the ball on the inbounds and allowed Merchant to streak uncontested to the basket.
"One in 100 plays I draw up works," Alexander said. "Fortunately, that was one. We executed exactly what we drew up in the timeout. It was incredible. They beat us three times last year, so it's good to get back on the right side."
Both Merchant and Sharp added eight points, behind Minor's 21 points. Caleb Lott paced Heritage Academy with 12 points, while Hardy added nine points.
In the opener, the top-ranked Starkville Academy girls posted a 72-34 victory over Heritage Academy.
The Lady Volunteers (30-0) led 12-9 after one quarter. The lead grew rapidly thanks to a 14-2 run in the second quarter and a 16-2 run in the third quarter.
"We played our typical mid-second quarter and early third quarter," Starkville Academy coach Glenn Schmidt said. "For whatever reason that is when we take it another level. I thought we weren't getting under some shots early and we missed some shots.
"Defensively is where we threw the switch and took the game over."
Sallie Kate Richardson scored 13 of her game-high 25 points in the second quarter as the Lady Volunteers began to impose their will. Maggie Proffitt kick-started the next run with 10 of her 17 points in the third quarter. Anna Lee Little also had a double-double, including 15 points.
"Sally Kate and Anna Lea both played great games," Schmidt said. "Maggie made some shots. I thought Maridee Higginbotham really gave us some great minutes off the bench. Defensively, it all starts with Tiffany (Huddleston). She puts a lot of pressure on the other team."
Heritage Academy (10-16) received seven points each from Mary Douglass Kerby and Adalys Edwards.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter