February 15, 2009
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
MABEN -- East Oktibbeha boys basketball coach Barnett Robinson had enough confidence and optimism for his team.
Even when his team was 2-11 and struggling to come together, Robinson believed in his players.
Robinson knew, even after a heartbreaking, last-second loss to West Lowndes, that the Titans would make a statement this season.
East Oktibbeha provided the exclamation point Friday night.
Douglas Chandler scored a game-high 27 points, Casey Neal scored 13, and Kirby Sherman added a spark off the bench to help fifth-seeded East Oktibbeha upset second-seeded West Lowndes 61-54 in the Class A, Region 5 tournament at East Webster High School''s Coach Sam Henderson Gymnasium.
"It is not how you start, it is how you finish," Robinson said. "We''re just now beginning to reach our peak."
A 3-pointer by Tyquan Lucious as time expired proved to be the ultimate test of Robinson''s patience in West Lowndes'' 59-57 victory against East Oktibbeha on Jan. 3 in the final game of the East Oktibbeha County Basketball Classic.
The addition of Sherman, who returned to the team after the Christmas break after straightening out his academics, gave Robinson reason to hope.
He also knew his inexperienced team needed time to jell and for the players to develop confidence in one another.
"We''re just now beginning to reach our peak," said Robinson, whose team also added Neal to the mix in December.
That confidence was tested Friday night, especially on one trip.
Chandler pushed the ball down the court in attempt to catch the defense on its heels. The junior guard moved toward the basket, drew a defender, and kicked the ball to Sherman. But Sherman, who was crashing in from the right wing, couldn''t handle the pass, which went for a turnover.
With the game in the balance, Chandler wasn''t too pleased, but neither he nor Sherman lost focus.
"I just put everything behind me, forgot about it, and tried to help the team win the game," Sherman said.
Robinson said he stresses to his players that they have to maintain their composure and continue to play.
Chandler admitted Robinson has said that so many times this season that it sometimes gets old, but he said he remembered his coach''s words and let his frustration subside because there still was a game to win.
"He always tells us never to give up," Chandler said. "I kept talking to the boys and told them never to give up and to put the ball in my hands. I tried to get the ball to the basket because I knew if I went to the free-throw line I was going to knock them down."
Sherman maintained his concentration in the fourth quarter to hit two free throws to give the Titans (11-14) a 53-52 lead with 2 minutes, 11 seconds to play.
A drive by Kevin Hargrove gave West Lowndes (19-7) a 54-53 lead with 1:13 to play.
On East Oktibbeha''s next possession, Sherman kissed a layup attempt too hard off the backboard from the right block, but he was quick enough to move into the middle of the lane to rebound the shot. Sherman went back up strong on his second shot to give the Titans the lead for good with one minute remaining.
"I knew it was all going to come together," Sherman said.
A West Lowndes timeout gave Sherman a chance to go back to the East Oktibbeha huddle and look at Robinson with an expression that said," I don''t know what happened on the first shot" and a sheepish shrug of the shoulders.
Chandler hit 6 of 6 free throws in the final 34.6 seconds, Sherman had a key blocked shot on Jeremy Smart, and the Panthers missed three other 3-pointers that could have helped them close the gap and earn their fourth victory in four tries against the Titans this season.
"We were flat," West Lowndes coach Herman Peters said. "We didn''t shoot the ball as well as we have shot the ball this season. Key players didn''t step up and score like they normally would. It wasn''t that they weren''t open, we just didn''t hit the key shots when we needed them."
East Oktibbeha''s extended 2-3 zone forced West Lowndes to beat it from the perimeter. Aside from a few baseline drives, the Panthers never forced the Titans'' defense to react to it and settled for outside shots.
"We didn''t take the ball in as well as we normally do," Peters said.
Both teams will host playoff games Tuesday night.
n Weir 38, East Webster 21 (G): Alvionna Knox had a game-high 16 points to lead top-seeded Weir (21-3).
Andrea Carter added 11 points as Weir outlasted an opponent intent on slowing the game down.
East Webster held the ball for long stretches in the first half. It executed its half-court offense and only trailed 10-8 at the end of the first quarter, 16-10 at halftime, and 22-18 at the end of three quarters.
A 3-pointer by Alexandria Morgan gave East Webster hope entering the fourth quarter.
But Tournament Most Outstanding Player Vonkesha Miller sparked Weir in the fourth quarter and helped hole East Webster without a field goal until a 3-pointer by Iyeshia Thomas (12 points) with 2 minutes, 17 seconds remaining made it 32-21 Weir.
n East Oktibbeha 48, West Oktibbeha 47 (G): Kyani Davis had 17 points and Olivia Moody added 13 in the consolation game.
Shamia Robinson had 18 points and Andrea Brown added 13 for West Oktibbeha.
n East Webster 52, West Oktibbeha 49 (B): Tournament Most Outstanding Player Johnthan Banks had 23 points and nine rebounds to help the host team take the consolation game.
East Webster trailed 43-33 early in the fourth quarter, but a pair of layups by Banks helped EWHS tie the score and then take a 45-43 lead with 3:42 ti play.
The game was tied once more at 45 before Banks blocked a shot and then scored on a layup to give his team the lead for good.
Jermaine Liggins added 16 points and five rebounds for East Webster.
Kareem Hughes had 22 points and 14 rebounds for West Oktibbeha, the top seed, which fell all the way to the No. 4 seed out of the Region.
Deon Bedford had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Zack Townsel added 10 points for West Oktibbeha.
The Timberwolves'' Joseph Landfair was named the district''s most outstanding boys coach.
The following players were named to the boys all-district team: Liggins and Taylor Williams (East Webster), Demetrius Malone, Devin Malone, and Jeremy Smart (West Lowndes), Jamario Carter (East Oktibbeha), and Bedford, Hughes, Townsel, and Shon Kelley (West Oktibbeha).
The following players were named to the girls all-district team: Robinson and Brown (West Oktibbeha), Daysha Humphrey and Marquita Gray (West Lowndes), Kaley Allen, Morgan, and Thomas (East Webster), and Alexius Selvie and Davis (East Oktibbeha).
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.