March 5, 2010 9:55:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- Three months have passed since the Starkville High School boys basketball team rallied to beat the Meridian Wildcats.
Whether or not that game at Meridian really matters now is up for debate.
Starkville will play Meridian in a rematch Saturday in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A state championship game and there are some interesting story lines. Among them, the teams have arguably two of the highest-rated players (Starkville''s Rashad Perkins and Meridian''s Rodney Hood) in Mississippi.
Both teams have beaten Biloxi and Greenville-Weston in the postseason and both have lost to Jackson Lanier this season.
Then, there''s the Nov. 10, 2009 game at Meridian, where Starkville rallied from a 20-8 deficit at the end of the first quarter to earn a 63-60 win in the second game of the season for both squads.
Some might give an edge to Starkville in the title game based on its win in November.
Further analyzing that theory, though, there are flaws at the core because of the time that''s elapsed. Both teams have played 25 games since, making the team Starkville faces Saturday different, better, more evolved and more experienced than the previous meeting.
And vice versa.
The advantage comes for both teams, not just the Jackets, in having a full 32 minutes of experience against one another.
"We get our confidence from knowing what they''ve got," Starkville senior guard Edward Townsel said. "The win, we really don''t draw as much confidence from because we know everyone''s playing their best right now."
Perkins believes there is more to the theory, though he admits much has changed since November and both teams are better.
Much like Wednesday''s Class 6A semifinal against Biloxi, the Jackets had to overcome a slow start to earn a win. Perkins believes it''s the way Starkville had to win at Meridian that gives the team a leg up.
"We feel confident about beating them since we have already, but when we beat them that first time it wasn''t by a big margin," Perkins said. "More so for us, the big thing is that we battled them. Since we battled them, we know what level we have to perform at to beat them again."
Since Starkville''s players and coaches don''t draw much from the prior meeting, they''re hoping to figure out how to beat Meridian in the championship game, especially since Hood struggled against Greenville Weston in the semifinals.
The Hornets held Hood to five points, nearly 15 points off his season average, but paid for their attention to the highly-touted guard. Sure, at 6-foot-7, there''s no one in the state that can match up with him on the perimeter. But state championship teams have multiple threats, and the Wildcats proved that with guard Matthew Hurn finishing with 23 points and forward Sidney Coleman dropping 17 and grabbing 16 boards.
"It negates your ability to try and take Hood out of the game," Carter said.
Starkville''s approach to defending the Wildcats will be much like the first meeting in keeping a perimeter defender on the rangy Hood and utilizing help defense on screens. And after the way Jaquez Johnson shut down Biloxi''s Jeremiah Dunnings (eight points), Carter doesn''t believe the same match-up pressure that coach Ernie Watson and the Hornets might have had Wednesday.
"It seems like every game we play now, we''re playing a team with big-time guards," Carter said. "Quez did a good job on Kelsey Howard from Vicksburg and Dunnings the other night. I don''t think there''s any reason to change what we''ve been doing."
Townsel admitted Meridian''s win over Greenville did make him wonder about the Jackets'' defensive approach. He doesn''t think it will change much after a solid second half of lock-down play against Biloxi, but the Wildcats'' preference of running offensive sets coupled with multiple scoring threats will create their toughest assignment of the season.
Stopping the Wildcats'' offense will only add fuel to the Jackets'' fire, even if they aren''t particularly sharp in their own offense, Townsel alluded. The Jackets'' second half performance against Biloxi proved just that, as the team shot 65 percent compared to Biloxi''s 20 from the field in the third and fourth quarters.
"All of us like to run, so holding defense and using our ability to run the floor is how we to prefer to play," Townsel said. "Getting transition buckets helps us a lot. We could run a half court set, but we like to run the floor and it works for us. [Transition] also helps a lot when teams try to double me. When we''re in transition, teams can''t do that. But if we''re not getting stops, it changes everything."
If defense and transition points are the key to the game, then there could be some validity in looking to the first round of the fight for cues.
Said Carter after the Nov. 10 win: "We were able to get out and run. We got some fast break points and hit the offensive boards."
Then, there''s this quotable from that same night.
"Everybody in the state will be looking to see who won this game. Don''t look at it as pressure being on you -- look at as a tremendous opportunity. We wanted to make a statement and I think we did that."
Sounded like a title game then and it will be one -- this time for real -- on Saturday.