February 20, 2009
JACKSON -- Dellie C. Robinson''s pleas went unanswered.
Whenever the Vicksburg High School boys basketball coach had a chance, he urged his players to get the ball down low so the Gators could exploit their size advantage against Noxubee County.
Instead, the Gators settled for a long-range attack that nearly helped shoot them out of the game.
It wasn''t until halftime that Robinson was able to drive his point home.
Intent on carrying out its coach''s wishes, Vicksburg scored 33 of its 39 second-half points in the paint or from the free-throw line in a 72-56 victory in the Class 4A State Tournament at Callaway High School.
Vicksburg (21-9) will take on Callaway, which defeated Greenwood on Thursday night, at 6 tonight for an opportunity to earn an automatic trip to Jackson''s Mississippi Coliseum for the Class 4A State Tournament.
Noxubee County ended its season at 14-12.
"That has been our weakness all year, we tend to settle for too many 3-point shots," Robinson said. "After district tournament, we went back to work and said we were going to get the ball inside to Mychel (Ammons) and Denzell (Erves). We changed that a little bit and it worked out for us."
Erves, a senior, led Vicksburg with 15 points, while Ammons, a sophomore, had 14. Both players helped the Gators exploit their size advantage inside against the smaller, quicker Tigers.
It wasn''t until late in the second quarter, though, that something clicked for Vicksburg. The Gators made 2 of 11 3-pointers in the first half, which allowed Noxubee County to keep the lead despite a cold shooting night by Mississippi State signee Shaunessy Smith.
The Gators then used a 10-0 run in the final 3 minuets, 34 seconds of the first half to turn a 28-23 deficit into a 33-28 halftime lead.
Smith (20 points, 4-for-18 shooting) missed two shots in the final part of the second quarter. The Tigers went 0-for-6 in that stretch and struggled to regain their touch the rest of the game.
"We started out pretty good and they picked up their energy level and we didn''t," Noxubee County coach T.J. Billups said. "They started to go to the offensive boards a lot harder and we took too many outside shots and didn''t get the ball into the post enough."
Billups said his team''s inability to get second chances made its cold shooting night even tougher to overcome.
On the other hand, Billups said it was even tougher to defend against a bigger, stronger front line after Vicksburg made a point to get the ball inside.
"We are so young in the post, and all year long it has been our Achilles'' heel," Billups said. "We have had good guard play and almost zero post play."
Smith and senior classmates Teddy Young and Kendrick Hollings delivered a lot of the strong backcourt play.
Smith, who played through an assortment of nagging injuries (hip, back, ankle, wrist) ended his Noxubee County career when he fouled out with 3:42 to play.
"We knew if we weren''t on from the outside it was going to be a long night," Smith said. "It was just one of those nights when we couldn''t make that many shots in the first half as we did when we first came out."
Billups watched with a bemused smile as the official inadvertently signaled the foul on Vicksburg''s No. 3. The error only delayed the inevitable and forced Billups to have to wait a few moments to hug Smith as he left the floor.
"Shaun is a great, great player. He also is a great, great person," Billups said. "He led the state in scoring last year and averaged about 23 points a game this year. Last year, he did it all with a torn ligament in his hip. This year, he played all year with pain. He didn''t use his injuries as a crutch."
Smith said he planned to take a week or so off to regroup and put together a plan to get back to 100 percent. He said he enjoyed his high school career and is looking forward to the next step in his life.
While he will be at Mississippi State in the fall, he said junior Vincent Sanders and the rest of the Tigers should be able to use the loss to Vicksburg as a valuable lesson.
"It is going to help them a lot," Smith said. "We have some pretty good sophomore coming up and two juniors who are pretty good. Most of them got playing time this year.
"I think (Vincent) is going to take that role and Darquarius Mallard is going to take it in and the rest of them are going to follow them."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.