December 19, 2012 8:39:42 AM
MACON -- Noxubee County High School boys basketball coach T.J. Billups gave his squad high marks for end-game execution Tuesday night.
"The fourth quarter was incredible," Billups said. "We had great offensive possessions. We made great defensive stops. Guys who have not been hitting free throws stepped up there and made free throws. That is how you win a game."
Noxubee County saved its best for last, erasing a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter and playing a nearly-flawless final stanza to post a 56-53 victory against New Hope at Narvel Colemon Gym.
In the opener, the New Hope girls remained undefeated with a 65-38 victory.
With the same type anticipation youngsters have for Christmas morning, Billups has been waiting patiently for his complete roster to be available. Several players recently joined the basketball team after helping the football team complete its run to the Class 4A state title.
"Our offense has been good all season," Noxubee County senior guard Jamarri Johnson said. "However, we needed help on the defensive end. We knew once the football players got here, we could become the type of defensive team we wanted to be. Tonight, we showed what we could be. It finally clicked and we played a great second half."
Noxubee County (6-5) harassed New Hope with full-court pressure. The Trojans (6-4) had success against the trapping early, but things unraveled in the fourth quarter, as Noxubee County forced five turnovers in an 11-2 run. A steal and layup by D.J. Robinson brought the Tigers within 42-41. Noxubee County then missed shots on six of its next seven possessions. Finally, the Tigers surged ahead on four straight free throws -- two by Charles Hughes and two by DeAngelo Ballard. Ballard, who quarterbacked the state championship team in football, finished with a team-high 17 points.
"We did a great job of getting to the glass in the fourth quarter," Billups said. "Our defensive aggressiveness led to some easy baskets. We had one bad stretch where New Hope scored so many so quickly. It took us a little while to recover."
With the teams tied at 25, Jaylon Bardley (game-high 27 points) took over for New Hope early in the third quarter. The sophomore guard scored on five of six possessions in a 13-1 run. Bardley assisted on the other basket. His defensive prowess helped fuel the run with three steals in the open court.
"(Bardley) is instant offense," New Hope coach Drew McBrayer said. "We got to get him up to speed on the defensive end. However, he is only a sophomore, so we will get him there. He makes some sophomore mistakes, but that is to be expected."
Bardley scored 11 points in the third quarter and appeared to shake the Trojans from their doldrums. The monster quarter ended with a blocked shot.
New Hope stretched that lead to 40-30 on a basket by Whyatt Foster to start the fourth quarter before things turned.
"We played smart and we made free throws in the fourth quarter," Johnson said. "That was so unlike us. We made our free throws in the fourth quarter and New Hope didn't. That is why we won the game."
Noxubee County was 16 of 20 from the line in the fourth quarter. At one stretch, the Tigers hit 12 straight. McBrayer agreed with Johnson's assessment.
"We missed 18 free throws," McBrayer said. "That has been a problem with our team all season. It is as simple as stepping up there and making free throws. It is the one shot in basketball where you are not guarded, so there are no excuses. We can't get them in."
Noxubee County was 24 of 34 from the line, while New Hope was 8 of 26. The Trojans also streaked to an eight-point first-half lead but could make either lead stand up. When the Tigers pushed ahead with 2 minutes, 52 seconds remaining, it was their first lead since a 2-0 advantage.
"This was a really big win," Billups said. "I saw some things that told me tonight we might be ready to turn the corner. It is good to have everybody back and ready to go. We are looking forward to the new year."
Johnson added 16 points, while and 13 points from Hughes had 13.
Girls: New Hope 65, Noxubee County 38
Last season, New Hope saw its season-opening 11-game winning streak snapped with a loss to Noxubee County.
The Lady Trojans were in no mood to see the Lady Tigers derail the team's fast start this season.
"Coach (Laura Lee Holman) has been challenging us to become a first-half team," New Hope junior D.J. Sanders said. "We have been really great in the second half this season. She wants us to be more focused and to start better. I thought we really did that tonight."
The Lady Trojans (8-0) built a double-digit lead in the opening quarter and were never threatened. New Hope led 38-19 at halftime and cruised.
"I really like where we are," Holman said. "There are things to work on. However, I like the confidence we are playing with. We have had stretches of really great basketball. I thought this game we came really close to playing a complete game."
New Hope entered the season with high expectations. Holman thought bench play would be a key ingredient as the Lady Trojans hope to make a long postseason run.
"Last season, we had players who were on different levels," Sanders said. "This year, we are more one team. We can go eight or nine players deep and we are putting good players out there. You can tell a big difference with this team this year."
Holman likes to play up-tempo and feels her squad is at its best when full-court pressure leads to turnovers and fast-break points. New Hope had multiple layups in a back-breaking 14-2 run in the third quarter.
"We really have the numbers this year to play the way we want to," Holman said. "The bench play has really been huge for us. We can apply pressure the whole game because we can substitute and keep players fresh. It is hard to play the way we want to play when you have limited numbers."
Sanders had 28 points to lead New Hope. Junior Moesha Calmes added 11 points.
"D.J. has really become a leader this year," Holman said. "She is not the vocal leader we would like her to be. However, she has done a great job of taking ownership in this team. She helps the younger players know exactly where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to do."
While Sanders appreciates the accolades of her coach, she feels leadership is best when shared.
"I really don't want to be the only leader," Sanders said. "(Senior) Gabby (Murray) is really the vocal leader on our team. She makes us go. I try to lead by example. I think we do a great job as a team of pushing one another. That is why we have success."
Idralien Williams paced Noxubee County (6-5) with 11 points.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter