December 1, 2013 12:52:23 AM
STARKVILLE -- Now that football season is over at Starkville High School, boys basketball coach Greg Carter knows his team will get some frontcourt depth.
In his basketball debut, Raphael Leonard helped negate Brandon's significant size advantage in Starkville's 60-55 win Saturday night in its Thanksgiving weekend tournament.
Leonard came off the bench early after the Yellow Jackets' post players got into foul trouble and scored nine points. He also was effective in shutting down Brandon's Tray Lawson.
"Raphael did more tonight than just be a stopgap for our starters," Carter said. "I was really impressed with his ability to play well in his first game back."
Leonard also earned several rebounds and a blocked shot that led to a three-point basket by senior guard Zeb Rice.
"We're a small basketball team, so it's my job to use my jumping ability to help get rebounds and help on both ends around the basket," Leonard said. "The defensive end and just trying to put back offensive rebounds was my main focus tonight."
Lawson had just six points in the first half, but he was frustrated in the fourth quarter and fouled out with 5 minutes, 22 seconds remaining.
"We figured out that they don't shoot it very well and basically we didn't guard them around the perimeter and begged them to shoot it from outside," Carter said. "If you weren't guarding the ball, you were guarding the post. Pretty simple concept."
Once Lawson fouled out, Brandon scored just five points in the first six minutes of the final quarter.
With Leonard and fellow football wide receiver teammate Fontavious Smith rejoining the basketball team this week, Carter knows his team's depth received an upgrade. With the high tempo, full-court press system the Yellow Jackets utilize, Carter will need all the quality bodies he can get as his team navigates Class 6A competition.
The only issue for Leonard and Smith is getting back into shape for the new endeavor.
"If we can get quality minutes off the bench, that can only help the team out as the season continues forward," Leonard said. "The only issue is getting out of football shape and into basketball shape because all the running in basketball is tough when it hits you at once."
Richard Evans added 11 points for Starkville and was the only other player in double figures. The Yellow Jackets used a 10-2 run in the third quarter to turn a tight first half into a manageable lead they never relinquished.
After a quiet first half with just six points, Rice led all scorers with 19 points. He had three huge three-point baskets in the second half that swung the momentum back to Starkville (5-0).
"It helps us when Zeb gets hot from the outside because he and his teammates get excited and the energy on the other end of the floor is high," Carter said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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