New Hope High School players and coaches celebrate Friday night after beating Leake Central 49-40 in the championship game of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A, Region 4 tournament at Noxubee County High in Macon. Photo by: Adam Minichino/Dispatch Staff
February 17, 2018 11:50:46 PM
MACON -- Kyree Fields took flight to provide the spark.
Tyler Stevenson followed by taking his game to another level to help push the New Hope High School boys basketball over the top.
Stevenson scored 11 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, and Fields was 6-for-6 from the free-throw line down the stretch to help second-seeded New Hope pull away for a 49-40 victory against fourth-seeded Leake Central in the championship game of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A, Region 4 tournament at Noxubee County High.
With its win, New Hope (20-7) earned the No. 1 seed from Region 4 and a game against Ripley at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the MHSAA Class 4A State tournament in Columbus. If they win, the Trojans also will play Saturday at home for an opportunity to play in Jackson.
"I knew I had to play that role and step up as a leader," Stevenson said.
Stevenson's jumper off the glass from just above the right elbow helped give the Trojans separation. He converted the free throw to complete the three-point play to give New Hope a 35-29 lead. He added another jump shot, a steal that led to two free throws after an intentional foul, and an offensive rebound putback that gave the Trojans a 43-32 lead with 2 minutes, 37 seconds remaining.
"I knew I had to flip the switch and put on that dog mode and lead the team to victory," Stevenson said. "In crunch time, I think I have done that pretty well. I just have to keep getting better at it. No days off."
New Hope coach Drew McBrayer said Stevenson, a senior, accepted the role as go-to player in the summer. He said Stevenson learned from former New Hope High standout Terryonte Thomas, who was on bench Friday wearing his East Mississippi Community College warmup jersey, and has accepted the responsibility of being the one the Trojans look to when they need a big play.
"That is kind of what our MO has been the last couple of weeks," McBrayer said. "In division, it has kind of been that way. He has just had to go take over. We have struggled to score recently, and you hope you will be able to knock down some shots, but Tyler has been big."
Fields (14 points) set the table for Stevenson by scoring on a 360-degree layup on the right block with 2:17 left in the third quarter. Fields took a pass from R.L. Mattix and hung in the air, absorbed contact, and didn't see his shot that broke a 27-all tie and sent New Hope on its way.
"I figured they were going to try to cut me off," Fields said. "I was going to step through, but I just reacted with instincts."
Fields picked himself up slowly from the court after making the shot. He said he landed on his side the last time New Hope played Leake Central. It was only until he heard the reaction of the crowd that he knew his aerial acrobatics were successful.
Fields, who also is a member of the school's football team, admitted he didn't know he had the "hops" to make a play like that. He smiled after being told he had to add that play to his resume and said he was going to get the video of the play off a camera or phone so he could save it.
Stevenson said he has seen Fields "get up" in practice. He said he believes Fields can use his elevation any time he wants to.
Still, New Hope waited until the fourth quarter to pull away.
"I think our team likes close games," Fields said, "or we like making coach mad or something. We always settle down and make the games interesting. I don't know why. It is scary, though.
"We weren't really buggin' it in halftime in the locker room. We weren't really trippin' about it. We knew if we played good we were going to come out and get the W, so we just continued to do what we do and settled down on defense."
The defense continued into the fourth quarter when Andrew Junkin blocked a shot that Mattix turned into a layup.
The Trojans appeared to be in control after taking a 12-3 lead. But Leake Central capitalized on seven New Hope turnovers in the first four-plus minutes of the second quarter and went on a 12-0 run to take the lead. The Gators led 22-20 at halftime.
McBrayer was pleased to see the Trojans fight back after the Gators hit a 3-pointer to kick their lead to 25-20 at the start of the third quarter.
New Hope had three turnovers in he third quarter, including the last one that allowed Leake Central to cut the deficit to 30-29 entering the final eight minutes.
But the Gators committed five turnovers in the third quarter and failed to capitalize on one sequence in which they had at least six shots to score. Leake Central appeared to have more energy in that stretch, but it started the fourth quarter 1-for-7 from the field and couldn't recover.
Fields didn't miss from the free-throw line in the final 5:23. Stevenson added two more free throws with 25.9 seconds left to help ice it.
"When the rest of my teammates are down, I just know I have to pick them up and flip that switch so I can bring some energy to the team so they can have some energy," Stevenson said.
McBrayer said the Trojans want to push tempo to create easy scoring chances, but he said they sometimes get too fast and can't slow down and get back into a half-court offense.
"We still had some turnovers in the second half that we don't need," McBrayer said. "It was just some lazy stuff. For us to advance further on in the playoffs, we have to clean some of that stuff up."
The celebration after the game also included the presentation of the region's MVP award to Stevenson. Junkin, Fields, and Mattix also were named to the all-region team. The news came as a fitting conclusion to a night filled with drama, but the Trojans acknowledged they will need to avoid anxious moments next week if they want to play in Jackson.
Fields and Stevenson said "focus" will be a key moving forward. Both players have confidence the Trojans can score, but they said they have to do it on the defensive end.
"We have to work hard in practice, 110 percent every day until that day, limit the turnovers, and execute," Stevenson said. "If we do that, I think we will be fine and we will make it pretty far."
n The Louisville High girls edged Leake Central 40-38 in the championship game. The Noxubee County High boys bounced back from their loss to Leake Central to beat Louisville 70-61. The Noxubee County High girls started the day with a 45-38 victory against Kosciusko.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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