December 12, 2017 9:50:45 PM
New Hope High School boys' basketball coach Drew McBrayer hopes his team will learn how to win close games this season.
After recent losses to Cleveland Central and Tupelo, the focus for the Trojans has been on making enough plays in the fourth quarter when a game hangs in the balance.
"This team has been looking a lot like last year's," New Hope senior Tyler Stevenson said. "That was the problem last year. We would play well for a large stretch, have a lead late but not win the game. Somehow, we have to find a way to get past that. I like this team. We are working hard at playing together as a team. We have a chance to have a great season, if we can learn how to close out games."
The team made no progress in the "winning a close game" column Tuesday night. However, it did win.
Scoring the game's first 21 points removed the doubt early as New Hope routed county rival West Lowndes, 74-37.
"The way we started the game was outstanding," New Hope senior Kyree Fields said. "Good defense can lead to offense. To have any chance, we have to play well on the defensive end. The way we started this game was good. We got some turnovers and made things a lot easier."
New Hope has a lot of returning experience. Under McBrayer, the Trojans have typically played hard and remained competitive. This season, the team hopes to benefit in a drop to Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A competition. The Trojans have size, length and depth. Easy baskets in the transition game can help the team get things going on the offensive end.
"We really disrupted a lot of things in the first half," McBrayer said. "With our length and our speed, we should be able to do that. We have not been a great first quarter team, so it was encouraging to see this kind of start."
West Lowndes (0-3) missed its first 16 shots and 24 of its first 26 shots from the field. The Panthers lost confidence early, with free throws and layups rolling in and out.
For New Hope, a challenging non-region schedule will continue this weekend with highly-touted Columbus in the Joe Horne Columbus Christmas Classic. New Hope also owns victories over Aberdeen and Caledonia with Tuesday's win completing a season sweep of West Lowndes. The first meeting was a 59-45 New Hope win at home.
"The challenge in practice has been getting everybody on the same page," Stevenson said. "We have some talented players. Now, the chemistry is getting better. We are understanding each other better and we know what each player is going to do on the court. The communication is the key. We need to get some turnovers and we did that, but you also need to have communication when you run the floor. Now that we are getting into the season, you can tell we are practicing better."
For New Hope, Stevenson led the way with 24 points and four blocked shots. R.L. Mattix had 12 points, while Krash Pascisco had eight points and Fields had seven points with eight assists.
Dylan Rogers led West Lowndes with nine points.
In the opener, the New Hope girls improved to 4-5 with a 62-48 victory.
"The last couple of weeks, we have been coaching enthusiasm and intensity," New Hope coach Chad Brown said. "The last couple of games, we have played with a lot of heart. That is something that has been missing. We may have some deficiencies as a team but we can make up for some of that with playing hard and effort. I am really proud that we have been playing with the type of passion we need to. Overall, need to shoot free throws better and need to take better care of the basketball."
New Hope received 11 points from Alaysha Jennings and 10 points from Imoni Harris.
The Lady Trojans opened a 14-4 lead midway through the first quarter and later stretched the advantage to 30-17 at halftime.
"It has been a difficult schedule to start the season," Brown said. "As long as we continue to practice hard and continue to improve, we should be fine once we get into region play."
West Lowndes (1-4) received 14 points from Shynice Watt.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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