February 21, 2013 1:20:37 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
JACKSON -- With one of his best friends and his squad's leading scorer on the bench with a ice wrap on his left knee, Brandon Sharp tried to carry the Starkville Academy boys basketball team to another game.
The problem was Sharp's counterpart, Madison-Ridgeland Academy senior point guard Jordan Hubbard, had just as many answers Tuesday to help the third-ranked Patriots survive an upset bid for a 44-37 victory in the first round of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA tournament at Jackson Academy.
Starkville Academy (17-16) didn't lead in the game until the first minute of the fourth quarter after Sharp took over. The senior guard scored his team's next 11 points in less than three minutes to turn an eight-point deficit into a one-point lead.
"My kids executed the game plan perfectly and did everything I asked of them tonight," Starkville Academy coach Mark Alexander said. "Think about this, we're playing the No. 3 team in the state in Jackson, lose our best player, they'd blown us out twice before and my team has a lead in the fourth quarter. It was a great effort."
MRA, which defeated Starkville Academy by an average of 22 points in their two regular-season meetings, couldn't build a lead bigger than 10 points because Alexander instructed his team to use several passes on each possession. The patience of Sharp (team-high 20 points) and allowed him to find driving lanes for contested layups.
"When he plays like that, he's special and the team he's on has a great chance to win," Alexander said. "Carnail (Minor) and him are really good buddies, so when he saw him go down, he took upon himself to say if we were going to do this, it would be because of me."
In the last five minutes, MRA coach Richard Duease handed the basketball to Hubbard. The 5-foot-10 perimeter threat found that sliver of space in the defense to hit three straight off-balanced jump shots.
Hubbard, who averages 13.4 points per game, scored eight of his game-high 21 points in the final quarter to lift the Patriots (24-14). MRA will play Parklane Academy at 6 p.m. Friday.
"I have to just shake my head because he hit some tough shots," Alexander said. "We got a hand in his face and doubled him on screens and he'd still make it."
Minor, Starkville Academy's leading scorer, left the game after his left knee gave out reaching for a pass near the Volunteers' bench early in the second quarter. Minor, who had an ice bag wrapped around his left knee, had two points in his final high school basketball game. He came into the game averaging 14 points.
"The fall looked bad, and when we got him in the locker room I didn't want to chance it for his future," Alexander said. "I hate it for him and his last game. You always want to win, but I wasn't going to put him at risk like that."
The loss marked Starkville Academy's first trip to the Class AAA tournament in nine years, and its first winning season since 2009, when first-team All-State selection Jonathan McKenzie played for the program.
"The credit of everything we've earned this year goes to those kids," Alexander said. "I didn't do anything. These kids decided they wanted to go further and be special, and I wanted to tell them that in the locker room afterwards."
Starkville Academy girls 47, Jackson Prep 32
Columbus High School transfer Maggie Proffitt has been amazed at how welcome her defending state champion Starkville Academy teammates have made her feel.
The Lady Volunteers needed Proffitt on Tuesday night to defeat Jackson Prep in the first round of the Class AAA tournament.
"It's amazing when you think these girls were a part of a state championship and they're all so accepting of me coming in and playing my game offensively," said Proffitt, who was 10 of 14 from the field and had four steals. "It's one of the things I thought about when I came in to SA in the summer, but it hasn't been an issue."
Proffitt, who went through the Class 6A North Half playoffs at Columbus High but transferred to SA a year after it won the state tournament, led all scorers with 22 points and had a basket every time Jackson Prep wanted to build momentum.
"She was very effective and then even snuck in there to get a few baskets on offensive boards," Starkville Academy coach Glenn Schmidt said. "She finds a way to help the team every time we play, and I'm so proud of her for that."
SA (38-0) will continue its quest for an undefeated season at 1 p.m. Friday, but Schmidt said none of the staff members or players mention it on or off the court.
"It never comes up because undefeated was never a goal of ours," Proffitt said. "We had goals of getting better every day, winning a state championship, but we never thought about winning every game so why worry about it now?"
Jackson Prep held the basketball more effectively than many of Starkville Academy's opponents this season, including a stretch where it held the ball for more than 90 seconds on its first possession before attempting a shot.
"They were real good about holding the ball, and I think that's the style we're going to see this year until we're done playing," Schmidt said. "Teams want to stop us from running, and we have to be able to speed up the tempo to be successful."
Junior guard Ann Hilton Buckner led Jackson Prep with 22 points. She kept the Lady Patriots within 11 at half by scoring 12 of the team's 14 points.
Starkville Academy used a 14-2 run in the third period to secure the victory. Sallie Kate Richardson added 13 points, five rebounds two assists, and two steals, while Anna Lea Little added five rebounds for Starkville Academy.
"I have no problem saying these are just high school girls and they feel a little bit of pressure," Schmidt said. "I'm proud of the way they've dealt with it so far."