February 17, 2010 8:36:00 AM
The New Hope High School boys basketball team didn''t bowl anyone over Tuesday night with its offensive effort.
But the Trojans threw all strikes on the defensive end.
Buoyed by the thievery of Jamal Richardson in the final minute, New Hope held on for a 31-28 victory against Yazoo City in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North Half State Tournament.
Richardson scored only six points, a far cry from the 19 he had Friday in a victory against Oxford that helped New Hope (25-3) clinch its sixth consecutive district championship. Still, he was content to be a disrupter and a ballhawk to help the Trojans survive and advance.
"Every day we work on defense," Richardson said. "The last couple of years we had Rashanti (Harris) and them on offense, and since we are not that tall we have to stop somebody."
New Hope''s victory coupled with Ridgeland''s 69-42 victory against Oxford on Tuesday means the Trojans will play host to Callaway, which defeated Gentry 60-43 on Tuesday, at 6 p.m. Friday. Ridgeland will play Provine in the other game at 7:30 p.m.
Last year, Callaway knocked New Hope out in the third-place game of the Class 4A North Half State Tournament. The Chargers went on to win the Class 4A and the Grand Slam titles.
Clinging to a 30-28 lead with 55.8 seconds remaining, Richardson and the Trojans went to work. Richardson picked the picked the pocket of Bradley Lawyer for a steal that led to him converting 1 of 2 free throws for the final margin. Raymond Walters (team-high 14 points) followed suit with another steal on the baseline, but missed the front end of a one-and-one with 11.3 seconds to play. Yazoo City called its final timeout with 8.2 seconds left, but Richardson stole the pass out of the timeout.
Richardson missed another front end of a one-and-one with 5.2 seconds remaining that gave the Indians a final chance. He made up for the miss, though, by stealing the ball from Demarco Cox, who had grabbed the rebound and was moving into position to attempt a 3-pointer.
"He wasn''t paying attention to me and he started right and when he came back left he I was already over there, so I just knocked it away," Richardson said.
Cox, a University of Mississippi signee who is 6-foot-8 and 285 pounds, led Yazoo City (12-16) with 18 points. But Lawyer (six points) was the only other player with more than two points for the Indians, who spread the floor and used patience to try to find ways to get the ball to Cox.
The strategy worked and prevented the Trojans from getting into any rhythm on offense.
It was a different story on defense. New Hope was so effective that point guard Matt Thrash lost his sneaker in the final two minutes of the second quarter and Yazoo City didn''t attack.
New Hope first-year coach Drew McBrayer said the Trojans'' defense was even better in the fourth quarter.
"We did everything we could to try to force somebody besides (Cox) to beat us," McBrayer said. "Our game plan was to try to take him away and force everything back out. I thought we did a good job of doing that. When they were trying to catch up, we got in there and got a couple of loose balls and get a steal. I thought it was a beautiful way to close out a game on the defensive end."
The Indians held the ball while Thrash tried to slide the sneaker back on. Unable to get it on, Johnathan Brandon came to his side and watched as Carl Little held the ball near midcourt and Thrash untied the sneaker and finally put it back on.
Thrash and Brandon then double-teamed Little and forced Yazoo City into a missed shot and a turnover after an offensive rebound.
Yazoo City coach Archie Carlyle, whose team has lost to New Hope in three of the past four years in the North Half State Tournament, said the Indians have to play a deliberate style because they aren''t a strong outside shooting team.
Defensively, Yazoo City used a 2-3 zone that limited touches for Brandon (six points) and driving lanes. Walters hit four 3-pointers and was the only Trojan who had much luck shooting against the Indians.
"We knew they could shoot and put it on the floor, so I was scared to go man," Carlyle said. "I knew if you leave them open and in a man to man that they would eat us up because they would get those shots wide open."
New Hope''s defense was just a little bit better. The Trojans collapsed on Cox as much as possible and denied him any room to move. They also capitalized on Yazoo City''s inability to take care of the basketball in the final minute.
"We might have four opportunities (in the fourth quarter) down there we didn''t capitalize on," Carlyle said. "I knew it was going to come back to haunt us. We should have gotten something out of it."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.