New Hope sophomore R.L. Mattix scored 15 points for the Trojans. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
February 20, 2018 10:32:58 PM
By Scott Walters
New Hope High School boys' basketball coach Drew McBrayer boasts a senior-laden squad this season.
For the Trojans to reach their zenith, each senior has a role to play.
A sophomore hitting some 3-pointers doesn't hurt either.
With everyone pulling in that same direction, New Hope opened the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A playoffs with a thrilling 69-65 win over Ripley.
"It was our type of game," New Hope senior Tyler Stevenson said. "We have to make every play and it has to come from everybody on the floor. If we keep doing that, we have a chance to go a long way."
New Hope (20-7) will host Rosa Fort (17-5) at 7 Saturday night in the second round, with the winner there heading to Jackson.
"It's all about winning the second game now that we have won the first," New Hope senior Kyree Fields said. "Playing at home is a huge advantage to this team. We know we are one win away from Jackson, so we are going to give it our best to try to get there."
Stevenson finished with 22 points, while Fields added 21 points. It is not uncommon for that duo to lead the scoring column for the Trojans. Sophomore R.L. Mattix scored his team's first six points and later hit three second-half 3-pointers to finish with 15 points.
Equally important were two blocked shots and a defensive rebound by senior center Andrew Junkin in the final 54 seconds. Each of those came with New Hope protecting a one-possession lead.
"It takes all of that," Stevenson said. "If R.L. doesn't hit those 3-point baskets, we don't win. If Andrew doesn't block those shots, we are probably headed into overtime. It was a good team win. We have had a lot of those this year."
New Hope has remained on the cusp of being a state title contender. Mattix is looking forward to his chance to step into that role as a future leader for the Trojans.
"Just wanted to go out and make some shots to help my team win," Mattix said. "We had a big student section so everybody was hyped. Playing at home is really huge for our team. It gives us a big advantage. We need to take advantage of that again Saturday night."
McBrayer knew the importance of two hard-fought wins in the Region 4 tournament and the home-court advantage that championship provided.
"We knew our path to Jackson was a good one," McBrayer said. "We knew we would have to beat two good opponents to get there. At the same time, it's important to be playing at home. In this game we got to the free throw line in the second half. That was the difference in the game."
The game was full of runs.
New Hope went up 8-0 but the teams were tied 10-10 after one quarter.
New Hope led 17-10 in the second quarter but needed a 3-pointer from Fields as time expired for a 25-24 halftime lead.
Back-to-back 3's by Mattix gave the Trojans a 35-27 lead. Yet, the Trojans led 46-43 after three quarters.
A 3-point play by Ripley's Kryston Dillard gave the Tigers a 48-46 lead and made a packed visitors' section go crazy.
Things remained tight the rest of the way until a spinning jumper in the lane created an old-fashioned 3-point play by Stevenson. That meant a 62-57 lead.
Mattix would then ram home his final 3-pointer for a 65-60 lead.
"That was a typical New Hope game," Fields said. "It is how we play."
Ripley (23-6) received 15 points from Asa Howard and 11 points from Dillard.
"A few careless turnovers here and there, that will matter more as the games get bigger," McBrayer said. "However, we really won't play any differently. We won't be better than we are right now. We just have to have everybody play together and have fun. When we have done that this year, it has worked out."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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