March 8, 2014 10:58:48 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
JACKSON -- The Shaw High School boys basketball had too much of everything for West Lowndes on Saturday morning.
Whether it was on the offensive boards, on the 3-point arc, in the passing lanes, or out in transition, Shaw asserted control early and never let off the gas en route to a 64-31 victory in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A state semifinal game at Mississippi Coliseum.
Jermarquis Stimage had a game-high 22 points, while Zedric Bass had 18 points and 10 rebounds to push Shaw (25-7), the North State champion, into a matchup against South State champion Hinds Agricultural High, which beat Coldwater 70-59 on Friday, at 8 p.m. Thursday for he Class 1A championship.
West Lowndes ends its season 11-12. The 31 points were a season low for the Panthers, who also were held below 40 points in regular-season losses to New Hope (twice) and Columbus. Those games against Class 5A and Class 6A Lowndes County rivals helped prepare West Lowndes for the rigors of Class 1A competition. On this day, though, West Lowndes didn't have any answers for a team that was bigger, faster, quicker, and stronger.
Octavius Stimage added nine points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks, which held a 55-36 rebounding edge, including an 18-10 advantage on offensive rebounds. Shaw also had 14 steals and forced 18 turnovers and held West Lowndes to 10-of-52 shooting (19.2 percent) from the field.
Senior Jeremy McGee (10 points, seven rebounds) was the only West Lowndes player to reach double figures. McGee also had three assists and two blocked shots. Wendell Rieves and D'Quaylon Brown added five points apiece, while eighth-grade point guard C.J. Smith had four points and six rebounds.
"I expected us to play a little better than we did, but Shaw is a pretty good team," McGee said. "I didn't expect them to be that good."
Despite the disparity in so many statistical categories, West Lowndes stayed close in the first quarter. The Panthers broke down the Hawks' defense and worked their way into the gaps on their first 10 shot attempts from the field. On six of those trips, West Lowndes had layups or shots in the lane. The Panthers also were fouled on three other trips. Halfway through the first quarter, a layup by McGee cut Shaw's lead to 11-8. But turnovers and perimeter shooting doomed the Panthers. They committed four costly giveaways in the second quarter and often settled for long 3-pointers instead of trying to move the ball and make the Hawks work on defense. The Hawks capitalized with a 9-0 run to end the first quarter. Shaw led by double digits the rest of the way and was never threatened.
"They were quick, they were big, and they were fast," West Lowndes coach Roosevelt Bridges said. "We tried to slow the ball down and play our game. It worked for a while, but they started to put the pressure on us."
Bridges said the Hawks' size and quickness proved to be a lethal combination that knocked the Panthers out of their rhythm and they never could recover.
"I think their size and their speed intimidated our boys," Bridges said. "We got the ball in and some layups, too, but I think our boys weren't getting in and boxing out like they were supposed to. They got the second and third shots. Our boys didn't get up and down the floor like I wanted them to and didn't box out at all."
As frustrating as it was to see his team get outrebounded, Bridges hopes the experience of playing on the state's biggest stage and facing an athletic, physical team like Shaw will motivate his players to come back bigger, stronger, and faster to make another run next season. The trip to "the Big House" was the first for West Lowndes since 2009.
"I really think it is going to help our boys out," Bridges said. "A lot of them have never been here before. They know what it is all about now. I think they are going to play really hard coming back."
West Lowndes will lose seniors McGee, Eugene Brown, Kale Scott, and Kenny White, while juniors Rieves, Brown, and Jevontrae Williams figure to return next season to form a nucleus with Smith.
"This experience is going to make me more physical, more mentally tough," Smith said.
For McGee, who hustled to the final whistle, the loss was a disappointing way to close a high school career. Still, he took satisfaction in playing a role in helping the program get back to Jackson. He pledged he would be back next year to watch the next group of Panthers play for a state title.
"Hopefully next year they go all the way and bring the gold ball home," McGee said. "I hope they learned a lot from the experience. I told them in the locker room they will bring it home for me, and I will be here to watch them. I believe this experience can make that much of an impression and motivate the team to get back next year."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.