February 16, 2018 10:29:10 AM
MACON -- Noxubee County High School basketball coach Danny Crawford is happy his Tigers will get a second chance in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A, Region 4 tournament tonight.
Crawford was quick to remind the Tigers there will be no such second chance next week.
The Noxubee County boys basketball team saw a 17-point lead slip away in a 47-46 loss to Leake Central in a semifinals of the tournament. The Gators took their only lead on a basket with 24 seconds remaining.
Top-seeded Noxubee County (16-12) will face third-seeded Louisville (20-6) at 5:30 tonight in the third-place game. Both teams will advance to the Class 4A playoffs. However, each team will be asked to win a road game Tuesday in the opening round. All of the playoffs are single elimination.
"We are fortunate in that we get another chance to play," Crawford said. "We can put this one behind us and still make something out of the season. When we come back to work Sunday, it's the new season. Everybody starts over at 0-0, but you can't lose again, so take this as a valuable lesson and learn from it. We need to come out and fight like heck to nail down third place (tonight)."
Crawford didn't mince words about his team's collapse. Many of the New Hope players and coaches were scouting for the region championship game. Almost all of those left at halftime with Noxubee County leading 35-18.
"In that first half, we could have beaten the (NBA's Los Angeles) Lakers," Crawford said. "That's how good it was. It was the best first half we played the entire season. We showed the type of team that we are capable of being. In the second half, the basketball gods showed us the type of team we are right now.
"In my 14 years of coaching, it is the most selfish team I have ever been around. When they start playing for themselves, we are in trouble. That happened in the third quarter."
The teams split during the regular season, with Leake Central also winning in this building during the regular season. That looked very unlikely to happen again after things came so easily in the first 16 minutes.
Dekylan Malone scored 14 first-half points to lead the Tigers. Thanks in large part to the play of Jaquarius Smith and DeAntonio Deloach, the Tigers were dominant on the boards, holding a plus-12 rebounding advantage at halftime.
Noxubee County scored the first eight points and led 19-7 after one quarter. A 10-0 run pushed the lead to 29-14 midway through the second quarter.
Things turned quickly in the second half behind the offensive play of Leake Central's Cameron Wingo and Deonta Johnson.
The Gators scored the first six points of the third quarter but appeared to be back out of things when they fell down 13 with 1 minute, 45 seconds left in the third quarter.
Leake Central (14-14) followed with the final four points of the third quarter and a 9-0 run to pull within 41-39.
Noxubee County had a five-minute stretch with 14 turnovers. Still, the Tigers kept hitting enough free throws and got a monster dunk from Deloach to open a 46-41 lead with 1:34 left.
Leake Central made two stops and reeled off six-straight points, with a putback from Josh Isaac giving his team the lead.
Noxubee County missed its final seven shots in three possessions in the final 24 seconds.
"I still believe we have a state tournament team," Crawford said. "We have all the pieces. When we play together, we are unstoppable. We have enough proof of how good we can be."
Malone had 16 points, while Smith had 11 points.
Wingo had 14 points for Leake Central.
n Leake Central girls 51, Noxubee County 46: In a girls semifinal Thursday night, third-seeded Noxubee County battled second-seeded Leake Central to the wire.
"Could not be prouder of the girls," said Crawford, who coaches both squads. "They have done everything I have asked of them this year. They show up every day, work hard in practice, listen, and enjoy being coached. They enjoy playing together. You can tell they have done a great job of getting everything they can out of their talent.
"I just hate we couldn't get over the hump and win that game. We played well enough to win. Missed too many free throws in the first half. That hurt the comeback in the second half."
Noxubee County (11-15) will face Kosciusko (3-21) at 4 p.m. today in the tournament's third-place game. Both teams will play a first-round playoff game Monday on the road.
"It would mean a lot to me for the girls to make the state tournament," Crawford said. "They have that capability. They have worked hard enough to earn that trip. It's a young team. We have a chance to be special next year."
Leake Central (20-8) used a 10-0 run midway through the second quarter to open a 25-20 lead at halftime. The Lady Gators stretched the lead to 12 early in the third quarter, but the Lady Tigers kept battling.
Noxubee County made it a one-possession game at 46-43. That was followed by back-to-back turnovers.
Adrianna Williams led Noxubee County with 15 points.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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