March 11, 2014 10:31:49 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
JACKSON -- South Jones High School girls basketball coach Sherri Cooley made some mental notes when her team played New Hope nine months ago in a summer league game.
Those reminders came in handy Monday night when South Jones scored at the end to nip New Hope 50-48 in a semifinal round game of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum.
South Jones (28-4) will play in its third-straight state championship game Friday against Natchez (27-1). For New Hope, the season ends with a first trip to the coliseum in 25 years and a 26-3 record.
"They beat us so badly during the summer," South Jones junior Kalen Phillips said. "We knew we had to do something different. Honestly it all starts with defense. When the other team wants to run and run, you have to play some defense. We played some killer defense."
Phillips scored the game-winning basket with 10.2 seconds left in regulation. The game was close throughout until South Jones opened up an eight-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. New Hope answered with a 12-2 run to take one final lead before South Jones' final push.
"We have preached patience all season," Cooley said. "When we play slow and play patient, we are really good. When we get out and try to run and things get chaotic, we aren't nearly as good. I thought our shot selection was outstanding."
Some teams start slow in the spacious confines of "the Big House." For these teams, that wasn't the case as they played at a hectic pace on offense that saw New Hope lead 16-15 after one quarter.
"The first quarter did a lot of for us because we proved we could play with them," said South Jones senior Shania Posey (team-high 17 points). "We weren't playing our kind of game, but we knew then we had a chance. In the second quarter, things really went our way."
South Jones slowed the tempo in the second quarter and seized the momentum. The Lady Braves also capitalized on the Lady Trojans' foul troubles.
New Hope managed four second-quarter field goals to forge a 24-all tie at halftime.
"(New Hope) beat us by about 40-plus during the summer," Cooley said. "What we learned then is we really didn't need to run with them. They have some freakish athletes and some incredible speed. We didn't want to be in a position where we had to match them shot for shot the entire night."
Instead, South Jones relied on patience. The methodical approach worked as the Lady Braves had only had 10 turnovers in the second half and shot 45.7 percent from the field. New Hope had its chances -- holding a plus-six rebound advantage, but it was 7 of 16 (43.8 percent) from the free throw line.
"We were fortunate in some of the things that went our way," Phillips said. "The biggest thing is defense. We wanted to defend hard on every possession of the game. Hopefully, we can get over the hump and finally win a championship (after losing the last two).To do that, it will again be all about defense. We feel like 50 points should be enough to win a game."
With New Hope's D.J. Sanders and Taylor Baudoin saddled with four fouls, South Jones opened a 43-35 advantage with less than six minutes remaining. Sensing the end of the season near, New Hope coach Laura Lee Holman re-inserted her two starters.
New Hope pieced together a 10-2 run in about 90 seconds to tie the game at 45.
"I thought we really showed our composure from having been here the last couple of years," Cooley said. "Playing on this stage can be a huge advantage if you use it right. We needed a lift because it was about to get away from us."
Moesha Calmes, who played a spectacular second half, gave the Lady Trojans a 47-45 lead. Posey scored the equalizer.
The game then turned one final time when Sanders (team-high 16 points) fouled out at the 1-minute, 55-second mark attempting to collect a defensive rebound.
"That was a really big play," Phillips said. "We really liked our chances after that."
New Hope tried to hold the ball with 50.7 seconds left and the score tied. South Jones trapped and forced a turnover. With 20.8 seconds left, the Lady Braves went the other way.
Phillips drove to the goal, paused while the defensive reacted, and then hit the game-winning shot with a spinning jumper in the lane.
"We really stayed within ourselves," Cooley said. "We learned what to do and what not to do from the last time we played them. It seemed like forever ago, but you knew New Hope had a team that could get to Jackson. You just hoped to be better if this situation presented itself again, and we were."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter