February 26, 2014 12:06:39 PM
Grit is something the West Lowndes Panthers has played with all season.
West Lowndes needed every bit of that ingredient Tuesday night to get past McAdams 74-70 in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A South State tournament in Columbus.
Wendell Rieves had a team-high 20 points and nine rebounds to lead West Lowndes (9-10) into a matchup against Dexter, the second-place team out of Region 7, on Thursday at Stringer High.
After an 0-7 start to the season, the Panthers dug deep and used a fast and determined style to grind out six division wins. It's a style coach Roosevelt Bridges said his team has played with all season.
"(We) don't have a lot of big guys. We have smaller players," Bridges said. "My philosophy is centered around the run. That's just my style."
West Lowndes used the same fast-paced, tough basketball to recover from a 25-11 deficit at the start of the second quarter. The Panthers scored 11 of the points of a 19-1 run in the first two minutes of the quarter to take their first lead, 30-26, with a little more than three minutes remaining in the first half.
West Lowndes' pressing defense spurred the comeback, as the Bulldogs committed four turnovers in the first two minutes of the second quarter.
"Our guys went out there a little bit slow in the first quarter," Bridges said. "The players had to realize (McAdams) didn't come here to sit out after the first round. Once we put in the press, that got us back into it on both sides."
Despite trailing 37-32 at halftime, it didn't take long for the Panthers to re-take the lead in the third quarter, as Rieves, a junior, caught fire. Rieves scored 11 points in the period, including three 3-pointers, to help the Panthers end the quarter with a 56-47 lead.
"We had to rearrange some things in the second half," Rieves said. "We fell behind again, so we came out after halftime with a different team, and I knew I also needed to step up some more. We needed to win."
The Bulldogs trimming the deficit to 69-67 with 43.8 seconds remaining, but Jevontrae Williams found his way inside for a game-clinching layup and a foul with seven seconds left.
Jeremy McGee added nine points and 11 rebounds, and eighth-grader Casey Smith added 13 points for the Panthers.