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East Oktibbeha sweats out victory


Adam Minichino



CRAWFORD -- A 16-point lead midway through the fourth quarter can be a blessing for a coach or a cause for concern. 


It''s a good thing East Oktibbeha boys basketball coach Barnett Robinson likes to hold a hand towel during games because he needed it to sweat out the final minute Tuesday night. 


Douglas Chandler had a team-high 24 points to lead three players in double figures as the East Oktibbeha Titans held on for a 68-67 victory against Puckett in the first round of the Class A South State Tournament. 


"We had a 13-point lead with five minutes left and it is like we just turned it off," Robinson said. "They figured the game was over. I tried to stress to them that the game isn''t over until the clock hits zero. We felt the game was over with just about five minutes left, and it almost cost us." 


East Oktibbeha (12-16) advances to play McAdams at 4 p.m. Thursday at McAdams High. 


Puckett ended its season 9-18. 


A basket by Casey Neal (13 points) gave East Oktibbeha a 64-48 lead with 4 minutes, 2 seconds to play. 


The Titans led 68-58 after two free throws by Chandler with 47 seconds remaining. But a free throw by Carvin Bailey, a layup by Christian Holmes (26 points), and a steal by Holmes that led to a 3-pointer by Broderick Lamb (game-high 27 points) cut the deficit to 68-64 with 19 seconds to go. 


Kirby Sherman (16 points) missed a shot on East Oktibbeha''s next possession but rebounded the miss and was fouled. Sherman missed both free throws with 4.1 seconds left.  


Lamb was fouled on the rebound. He hit the first free throw with 3.1 seconds remaining and then tried to miss the second to give the Wolves a chance to rebound the ball to attempt a 3-pointer that could have tied the game. 


East Oktibbeha''s Lamarcus Belk rebounded the second shot but turned the ball over under the basket. 


Fortunately for the Titans, Holmes didn''t have time to kick the ball to the 3-point arc and settled for a quick turnaround jumper as the horn sounded. 


East Oktibbeha turned the game with an 11-2 run in the final 2:27 of the second quarter that erased a 26-26 tie and gave it a 37-28 halftime lead. 


Five players scored in the run, including Belk and Sherman, who gave the Titans a huge lift off the bench. The post players helped negate Puckett''s outside shooting strength and helped East Oktibbeha prevent several drives to the basket. 


"They were a big help, especially Lamarcus," Robinson said. "He has played real good for us. He got some key rebounds and put back some shots, too. We''re going to need that intensity from every game." 


Sherman hit a jump shot and Belk added an offensive rebound putback to give East Oktibbeha a 32-28 lead. A jump shot by Neal and three free throws by Chandler, who was fouled attempting a deep 3-pointer with two seconds remaining in the quarter gave the Titans the momentum. 


It turned out to be a lead East Oktibbeha almost frittered away. 


"In the second half we weren''t playing together," Chandler said. "We were getting our head out of the game. I told them we had to stay in it if we wanted to move on." 


Puckett coach Paul Hardy pleaded with his team to take the basketball to the rim. With 3:55 to go before halftime, he used a timeout to tell his players "don''t give up an opportunity to go to the hole." 


Hardy reiterated that point trailing 44-33 with 4:59 left in the third quarter when he said, "I want the ball inside." 


His words went largely unanswered, save for the final minute. 


"We did (get the ball inside) in the first half, but we basically forgot and started trying to shoot jump shots to shoot with them," Hardy said. "If we had stayed in there and got some of those guys in foul trouble like we did in the fourth quarter, they wouldn''t have been out there and I think we could have pulled it out. 


"We knew we couldn''t run with them, so we were going to try to see if we could hang in there. This was too many points to give them, but they made a run on us and we threw the ball away some. I have to give it to them. They played well at times." 


Robinson said his players will have to defend and contest jump shots better than they did Tuesday night if they want to extend their season past Thursday. 


He also said the Titans will need to attack offensively Thursday. Against Puckett, Chandler''s and Neal''s outside shooting opened driving lanes that they used to penetrate and to dish off to teammates for easy shots. 


East Oktibbeha didn''t make as many as Robinson would have liked, but Sherman feels he is playing better, at least better than he did Saturday against West Lowndes. He hopes he and Belk can continue to give the team a spark when they enter the game and play together. 


"(Robinson) told us to box out and to get all of the rebounds and to keep our hands up," Sherman said. "We picked up the team. When I made that dunk (at the end of the first quarter) I feel it gave the team some momentum." 



Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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