Heritage Academy’s Dontae Gray (0) looks for a passing lane against MRA Friday night. Photo by: Mary Swedenburg/Special to The Dispatch
March 4, 2018 12:43:31 AM
By Laurence Hilliard
Special to The Dispatch
CLINTON -- One column on the final stat sheet -- 3-point shots -- explained why the Madison-Ridgeland Academy boys basketball team defeated Heritage Academy 68-45 in the semifinals of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Overall State tournament Friday at Mississippi College. MRA was 11-for-21 from behind the arc. Heritage Academy was 1-for-13.
"I thought we were guarding them pretty well, but they were knocking down shots," Heritage Academy coach Russ Whiteside said. "They're already a really good team. But when they shoot the ball like that they become almost unbeatable."
Heritage Academy finishes 30-11.
The teams were tied at 12 after one quarter. But MRA scored nine-straight points in less than two minutes to start the second quarter to build a 32-19 halftime lead.
"I think we played hard for four quarters. I think we got a little tired toward the end of the second quarter and they hurt us on the offensive boards," Whiteside said. "We weren't blocking out like we should."
Heritage Academy also had a poor second quarter in the previous round, falling behind Marshall Academy 21-19 at halftime. It then dominated the second half for a 50-34 victory. But Heritage Academy didn't get any closer than 12 points after intermission against MRA, a team with four seniors and a junior in the staring lineup. By contrast, Heritage has five sophomores among its first seven players, which is why Whiteside is optimistic about the future.
"We like our group. We love our two seniors (Dontae Gray and Josh Neal) who led us this year," Whiteside said, "but we feel like we have a good young group, and we feel like we have a chance to be good for years to come. Hopefully this stings enough for them to get back to work in the offseason and get us back here again."
MRA shot 52 percent from the field (25-for-48) to 37 percent for Heritage (17-for-46) and had a 32-22 rebounding edge.
Trey Fort, the junior in MRA's starting lineup, scored eight points in the first two minutes, hit 5 of 6 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 23 points. Eli Acker led Heritage Academy with 15 points and seven rebounds. Gray had 12 of his 14 points in the second half.
During one stretch in the third and fourth quarters, Gray scored 11 of his team's 14 points.
"He kind of tried to put us on his back there," Whiteside said. "He's a great kid. He's a great player. We're going to miss him."
Said MRA coach Richard Duease, "Heritage's half-court defense is really good. They play hard. They're big. They block you out. I thought we had to push the ball. We had to create some easy baskets. And we were able to do that. That opened the game up a little."
Duease said MRA wasn't looking past Heritage Academy.
"We know Heritage has a good team. We played them at our place (in the regular season) and going into the fourth quarter we were three points down," Duease said. "We outscored them 26-12 in the fourth quarter."
Heritage Academy (30-11) qualified for the Overall State tournament as the Class AAA champion, and was the only non AAAA team to reach the semifinals. Jackson Academy edged Parklane 39-38 in overtime in the other semifinal.
"Our heads are held high. We won our conference, we won our North half, we won our state championship," Whiteside said. "We were down to the last four teams left playing in all classifications, so I'm super proud of our guys for a lot of reasons. It's nice to have been the only smaller school left."
MRA, which is seeking its 10th Overall championship in 14 years, is 33-5.
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