February 28, 2018 5:46:44 PM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
With two minutes left to go and up six against the Rosa Fort Lions, New Hope boys' basketball coach Drew McBrayer knelt down and asked his team "do you have two minutes in you?" A player deep in the huddle responded, "I've got two minutes coach."
Two minutes later, the clock hit 00:00 and the New Hope Trojans had defeated Rosa Fort 59-54.
The Trojans are headed to the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A second-round game in Jackson for the first time in 10 years.
McBrayer said he walked into the locker room and let his team know how happy he was after battling for 32 minutes.
"One of our goals at the beginning of the season was to win a district tournament," he said. "We've done that....and to get to Jackson and we've done that now. It's been a while around here and there's a lot of excitement in that locker room right now."
It was an intense game, full of moment shifts. New Hope ended the first quarter down 19-8. The Lions played aggressive defense and New Hope struggled on both sides of the ball, but a slam dunk by Andrew Junkin with 5 seconds left in the quarter, gave the Trojans the spark they needed.
Junkin finished the game with eight points, but his effort on defense, where he had six blocks, was felt the most.
New Hope battled back in the second, putting up 17 points in the quarter, while holding Rosa Fort to seven points. The Trojans were down by one at halftime, 26-25. The Trojans stepped up defensively and were more succinct on offense, draining five 3-pointers, including a buzzer beater, and a shot by Kyree Fields.
McBrayer said the team expected a battle and recognized they had to step up on defense if they were going to win the game.
"We picked up on defensive intensity and got a little more on the ball and started rebounding the ball," he said. "I mean, we gave up 19 points in the first quarter. That's not us. That's not our defense. We had to change that and we did. Credit to them, they got after it and they played really hard."
New Hope struck first in the third quarter. Tyler Stevenson hit two back-to-back jump shots to give the Trojans their first lead of the game at 29-28. The lead didn't last long, Rosa Fort continued to hit back, making tough shots and putting a full court press on New Hope, but the Trojans kept making plays and took a 37-34 lead into the final quarter.
Rosa Fort's full court press caused problems for New Hope at the very start of the fourth quarter and the Lions were able to keep New Hope within three. But the Trojans went on a 7-0 run to push their lead to 10, 46-36, with five minutes left in the game. Stevenson accounted for four of those points, including a huge dunk. He finished the game with 23 points. Rosa Fort could only come within six the remainder of the game. New Hope made gritty shots in the paint and hit nine of 10 free throws in the final minutes of the game.
A hard fought win comes as no surprise to McBrayer, who credited tough wins the last few weeks and leadership from his nine seniors.
"They lost this game last year so they knew what it felt like afterwards to lose," he said. "So it was a big goal to get over this step tonight."
After a few minutes in the locker room, New Hope players started trickling out, each with a smile on their face. One of those seniors, Junkin, said he spoke to the team before the game about what this team could leave behind.
"This is our legacy," Junkin said. "This is what we leave behind. When we leave school they see our banner on the wall. They see our names. They ask coach about it. It's how we get remembered. It means a lot.
This is the last game they're ever gonna play in this gym. We had to do this for everybody. Nobody else gets to come back to this gym for a high school basketball game. So we've got to do it for everybody, not just us. And we did it."
New Hope plays Lanier at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
2. Loss to Kentucky reveals issues for MSU LOCAL COLUMNS
3. Players of Week: Crawford, Cork help West Lowndes start region win streak HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. MSU women's basketball team set to open practice Thursday COLLEGE SPORTS