February 22, 2009
JACKSON -- The New Hope High School boys basketball team already had played giant killer once in the Class 4A North State Tournament.
New Hope''s victory Thursday against a much bigger Yazoo City team put it one win away from earning what many, at the start of the season, would have believed an improbable return trip to Jackson for the state tournament.
A loss to Ridgeland on Friday night landed New Hope exactly where it didn''t want to be: in a knockout game against Callaway on its home court.
New Hope discovered Saturday night why Callaway has been ranked No. 1 in the state for most of this season.
Deville Smith scored a game-high 33 points and Julysses Nobles added 23 to propel Callaway to an 83-63 victory in the tournament''s third-place game.
Callaway (28-6) will join Ridgeland and Vicksburg, which beat Callaway on Friday night, in the state tournament this week.
Defending Class 4A champion New Hope ends its season at 25-6.
"We didn''t lose this game tonight, we lost this game last night," New Hope coach Robert Byrd said. "We had an emotional win Thursday and it is hard to bounce back and play again, especially when you''re 16- or 17-years old.
"We put ourselves in a position to play Callaway in a put-out game in their gym. That''s a tough spot. We picked a bad night (Friday in a 61-47 loss to Ridgeland) to have a bad game."
Callaway made sure New Hope''s Johnathan Brandon or any of the other Trojans weren''t able to get off to a fast start.
The Chargers had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half that Byrd said resulted in 16 second-chance points. The easy buckets helped Callaway take a 43-35 halftime lead.
"It helped a lot," Callaway coach Wayne Brent said of his team''s offensive rebounding. "We challenged our guys not to take them for granted because they were so much smaller."
Those points set the tone and coupled with the Chargers'' ability to turn up their pressure defense another notch ultimately spelled the Trojans'' doom.
"I felt good that we stood in and held our ground, but I am also kind of disappointed because we didn''t hold our ground in the second half," New Hope senior Victor Payne said. "I feel we let down, gave the ball away, and gave them the game."
Callaway used a 15-6 run to start the third quarter to push its lead to 58-41 with 4:42 to play in the quarter.
New Hope answered with an 11-2 run in the final part of the quarter to get back into contention.
The Trojans missed three chances to cut the deficit below eight points.
Callaway''s pressure defense forced five turnovers in the first 1:34 of the fourth quarter to push its lead to 68-52.
The Trojans crept to 11 points twice, but a 9-0 flurry, sparked by eight points on layups or dunks, sealed the deal.
"You could tell our kids were so much more focused," said Brent, who received a host of text messages from his players Saturday morning telling him they were ready to play hard that night. "When we first walked in, usually they will be laughing and talking. Today was like a business day. If we didn''t win we were going home."
Brandon made three 3-pointers in the first quarter Thursday against Yazoo City to spark the Trojans. He finished with 26 points and helped the smaller Trojans beat a team that had 10 players 6-foot or taller.
New Hope didn''t have the same luck Saturday night.
Brandon tied for team-high scoring honors with Payne (16 points), but New Hope trailed for good after Nobles made a 3-pointer with 5:19 remaining in the first quarter that gave the Chargers a 9-6 edge.
"We had been turning it up the whole season until Friday''s game against Vicksburg, when we were up 14," Brent said. "They came out and knocked down a three and it sent us into a tailspin. We didn''t have the push to go get them. We were on our heels the whole night. We just didn''t have it Friday. We did today."
Payne said it wasn''t easy to crack Callaway''s pressure. He said the Trojans were inconsistent in how they attacked the three-quarter court trap.
Still, it is difficult not to credit New Hope for getting one step away from returning to Jackson. The Trojans lost their top eight players from last season''s team and returned with an inexperienced and undersized team.
New Hope overcame those hurdles to win its division and a game at the North State Tournament.
"This is the most satisfying year I probably have ever had in coaching," Byrd said.
Although it was only minutes after the loss, Payne said he was proud he and classmates Vershun Eddins, Quentin Shirley (13 points), Joseph Gardner, and Javarous Williams worked hard to help the Trojans build on their tradition.
"Nobody expected anything out of them," Byrd said of the seniors. "New Hope basketball is special, and they have made it even more of a special place to be by the way that they work and the way that they represent the program."
Said Payne, "We kind of shocked the state of Mississippi because no one in the state thought we would make it this far. We just didn''t take care of business like we were supposed to.
"I think the future will hold a great team next year. New Hope is just a hard-working school."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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