January 30, 2018 11:09:52 PM
STARKVILLE -- The gymnasium at Starkville High School was in a full-on celebration after Jariyah Covington's lay-up put the Lady Jackets up two with 11 seconds left. Everyone around the court knew the Starkville girls basketball team had just clinched a revenge victory over the Murrah team that snapped its 13-game winning streak and handed Murrah its first loss of the season.
On the court, Starkville coach Kristie Williams was in an embrace with guard Tabreea Gandy, who assisted the Convington lay-up. It was no celebration.
"I was telling her we had to control the inbounds," Williams said. "We had to know where their best shooters were. It wasn't over until that last horn sounded."
In the magnitude of a crucial 43-38 Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A, District 3 win Tuesday night for all the above reasons, Williams tried to keep her Lady Jackets grounded. She saw it as a lack of execution that cost them in the 51-42 loss five days prior and didn't want to build on the magnitude of the game to possibly have it happen again.
After the fact, she allowed herself to enjoy what she agrees can be considered a statement win.
"I think so. More than anything else, it helped with the confidence level of our players to know that we can win the big games," Williams said. "It doesn't always have to be those guys where we can win kind of easily; sometimes you have these games where you have to overcome adversity, and tonight we showed we can do that."
That adversity came in the form of a five-point deficit with four minutes left to play. At that mark, two pivotal developments came: Murrah's dominating forward Jamaica Almons fouled out of the game, and Gandy took over for the Lady Jackets.
Gandy ended with 14 points, eight rebounds, three assists and a steal, but seven of those points and four of those rebounds came in the final quarter.
Gandy was the one that tied the game at 38 with a crafty set of dribble moves that weaved her through every Murrah defender on the floor. She missed two free throws with 30 seconds left that could have given Starkville the lead, but she responded by being part of the stop that led to her lob over half the court that led to Covington's crucial layup. Covington ended with 15 points.
"That's the type of player she is. Tabreea is that grind it out, go get it player," Williams said. "She'll get a key rebound or she'll take it all the way to the goal if she needs to, but she's not afraid to be that player to say, 'We have to win this game.'"
On the final play, Gandy knew what was coming.
"I saw her wide open running. I was looking for everybody to take off; we were looking to score," she said.
Starkville (19-2, 4-1) got off to a 12-5 first-quarter lead largely on the play of Jalisa Outlaw. She scored all six of her points in the first quarter and ended the first eight minutes with three rebounds and three steals, those steals both stifling Murrah's early offense and leading to easy scoring opportunities.
"We've been stressing to all the girls better on-ball defense," Williams said. "We have to pressure their guards no matter what team we play because they're the ones that are dictating the floor."
Starkville did it all despite rebounding issues in the opening minutes; Murrah's Almons had five in the first quarter alone, two of them offensive. Kirsten Thompson helped equalize that over time with her 10 rebounds, three of them offensive, in addition to her six points. Donsha Lee came off the bench and gave Starkville a crucial fourth-quarter jumper.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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