March 7, 2010 12:31:00 AM
JACKSON -- Finally.
After returning home with state championship disappointment in four other trips with Greg Carter as the coach, the Starkville High School boys basketball teaam rode forward Rashad Perkins'' 25 points and 14 rebounds to win the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A state title Saturday.
Starkville won the elusive state championship by beating Meridian 57-51 at Mississippi Coliseum.
Perkins was chosen the Cellular South Player of the Game after playing the entire 32 minutes and making 9-of-16 shots from the field. He also blcked three shots.
The state title is Starkville''s second all-time and first ever for Carter, snapping a 49-year drought with a resilient performance that erased the disappointment of Carter''s last state final in 2003, when the Jackets lost in overtime to Vicksburg.
Obviously, the Starkville coach was relieved to finally capture the gold ball.
"I wasn''t relieved until the horn went off, even though the guys on the bench were telling me it''s over," Carter said. "It''s like a crowning achievement (for himself), but I''m really proud for this team. I think we''ve been playing the best basketball of anyone in the state since the beginning of February."
In front of an estimated 4,000 people, the Jackets overcame third-quarter foul trouble to a pair of starters and held Meridian''s top scorer, Rodney Hood, to 14 points on 6-of-18 shooting. For the game, Starkville''s defense held the Wildcats to 27 percent shooting.
"It all started on the defensive end when we started getting stops," Carter said. "Edward (Townsel) and Shad (Perkins) were great in transition off the stops we were getting. Shaquille Hill made some big shots, too, and it all started with how we played on the defensive end."
Perkins, who also made the 6A All-State Tournament team along with Townsel, scored 15 points in the second half, eight of which came in the third quarter when Gavin Ware and Jaquez Johnson each picked up their fourth fouls.
Both Ware and Johnson sat for the majority of the period, but Starkville''s play didn''t taper and the Jackets ultimately extended a lead that narrowed to one out to six to end the quarter.
Perkins, easily Starkville''s most visible and recognizable player, rose to the occasion when his team needed him the most.
"You know, I don''t really consider myself a star but I know my team depends on me," Perkins said. "Really, I''m just speechless and happy we got the gold ball. There''s a lot of pressure relieved after the Starkville teams in the past got to Jackson but didn''t get it done."
And for the doubters who thought Starkville would return home empty handed for the fifth time since 2002-03, Perkins said: "I''ve got three words: I told you."
Starkville got 11 points and nine assists from Townsel and nine points and eight rebounds from Ware.
Starkville avoided the sluggish start it produced against Biloxi by taking an 11-4 lead six minutes into the game and forcing a Meridian timeout. Hill had a follow up and Gavin Ware had a wide open dunk to fuel the run.
After carrying a 14-9 lead into the second quarter, the Jackets opened up a nine-point lead with a 10-6 run behind back-to-back 3-pointers from Townsel.
But Meridian answered with a 10-2 run to take a 25-24 lead after Marcus Hurn knocked down a 3.
Starkville fittingly closed the half on another run, this time 5-1 to close the half and head into the break with a 31-25 lead.
The third quarter presented adversity in the form of foul trouble when Ware was called for his third and Johnson picked up his fourth just two minutes into the third quarter.
Both went to the bench, but Ware returned with four minutes left, only to pick up his fourth just a half minute into being back in the game.
Carter said he had to pick his spots with bringing Ware back into the game.
"With Gavin, we decided to sub him in on offense and take him off on defense," Carter said. "With Quez, we just couldn''t take that chance with him guarding Hood. Too much risk to bring him back in. But credit to the other guys on the floor, because we really picked it up in that quarter."
The Jackets recovered with Ware''s and Johnson''s replacements, Tory Rice and Calvin Young, in the game. Young provided a taller body to defend Hood and gave the Jackets a lineup with four players 6-foot-4 or taller. Starkville went on an 8-3 run to close the quarter and take a 43-37 lead into the fourth quarter, where the Wildcats got to within four at the beginning of the quarter but struggled to find their footing, especially at the free throw line.
Meridian went 7-of-19 from the stripe.
The Jackets end the season at 28-2, overcoming heavy roster turnover from last year and the loss of a starter and two bench players this year.
"It''s everything that I imagined," Townsel said. "All that conditioning, all the practice, it''s good to see all of it pay off."
Much has been made of Carter''s doomed trips to the Big House, and after admitting to a huge sense of relief following the Jackets'' win, Carter said Saturday''s win was just as big for the city of Starkville.
"The support we''ve had for years is incredible," Carter said. "You can see the turnout we had tonight and the turnout we had Wednesday for a 2:30 game. This has been a long time coming."
4. Walters column: Noxubee County rarely backs away from challenge HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. MSU men's basketball releases non-conference schedule COLLEGE SPORTS