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Patriots rally to blow past Starkville Academy boys


Adam Minichino



Cole Walker didn''t have a special assignment to start the second half. 


As important as Walker is to the Heritage Academy boys basketball team, coach Yandell Harris didn''t ask him to do anything unusual to provide a spark. 


Instead, Harris encouraged all of his players to raise their level of play, especially on defense, in an attempt to find a way to slow down hot-shooting Starkville Academy. 


But seniors know when it is their time to shine, and Walker responded in a big way, scoring 11 of his game-high 17 points in the third quarter to help Heritage Academy rally for a 59-39 victory Tuesday night in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, North Division game. 


Walker hit two 3-pointers and took a pass from Cade Lott (17 points) and hit a layup and converted a three-point play with 5 minutes, 41 seconds to give the Patriots the lead for good at 34-31. Brad Dickey added 13 points as Heritage Academy (10-5, 3-4 Class AAA North) held Starkville Academy (5-13) to 10 points in the second half. 


"He just told us to control the ball better on offense and to pick the intensity up on defense (in the second half) and just really go at it," Walker said. "He has real good confidence is us, and that helps us keep on moving." 


Walker''s perimeter provided the remedy the Patriots needed after they trailed for most of the first half and 29-23 at halftime. Walker''s 3-pointer from the left wing seemed to get him and his teammates going, even though he said he wasn''t looking to trigger the momentum. He conceded, though, he was more aggressive in looking for his shot. That was easy to see on a baseline drive on the left wing in which he probably pressed the action a little too much and was fortunate to draw a foul. He went to the free-throw line and converted two shots. 


"I never stop shooting the ball," Walker said. "In he first half, I didn''t have a good shooting game. In the second half I did, and it just started flowing, I guess." 


Walker''s ability to get into rhythm forced the defense to come out on him a little tighter and created bigger driving lanes, which Heritage Academy exploited in its motion offense. Walker showed the poise of a senior as he worked well with Lott on drives into the gaps and passes out of traffic for easier shots. 


Heritage Academy first-year coach Yandell Harris credited Walker''s leadership for helping the Patriots find the momentum. 


"As Cole goes, we go," Harris said. "If he is shooting it pretty well we can be pretty good. Cole started making a few shots (in the third quarter) and that set off some other people. Brad Dickey hit some shots and Parker Turner came off the bench and played good defense, and he hit a few big shots. It is like it is contagious. You see a person get hot and you start to feel it." 


With a new energy from their offense, the Patriots also picked up their intensity on defense. At halftime, Harris encouraged his players to be more active to prevent the Volunteers from getting quick-hitters at the start of their offense. He also wanted the Patriots to be more disruptive and not to allow the Volunteers to be deliberate because he saw how effective they were in the first half when given opportunities. 


"I thought in the first half we contested shots very well and they just made shots. They were really hot," Harris said. "In the second half, the only adjustment we really made was when they came down the floor we were not letting their point guard get a look at everything. ... We put more pressure on the ball at the start of their offense. Once that gets out of sync, it affected their shooting a little bit because they didn''t shoot as well as they did in the first half." 


Walker''s hot shooting in the third quarter helped Heritage Academy take a 40-35 lead after three quarters. The lead ballooned to 50-35 midway through the fourth quarter as Starkville Academy''s cold shooting continued. Jon Michael Robinson led the Volunteers with 14 points, but all of his points, including four 3-pointers, came in the first half. 


"You have to tip your hat to Heritage," Starkville Academy coach Chris Lyle said. "Cole (Walker came out in the second half) and got hot and it was kind of hard to contain him a little bit. Once he hits a couple he starts feeling it and he tries to take over the game, and he did that. He did a really good job. To their credit, they did what they needed to do in the second half and outscored us by 26." 


Lyle said his team, which features seven seniors, is still taking steps and continues to grow and to improve. He said plenty of good things happened to the Volunteers in the first half and they just have to find a way to build from that and try to carry that momentum over to the second half the next time. 


Adam Crittenden added 11 points and J.R. Gerhart added eight for the Volunteers. 


"We''re kind of helter skelter sometimes when we try to press a team or get out and play a man," Lyle said. "It is pick your poison with us a little bit. When we zone offensively, we don''t have the same rhythm or we''re not able to create turnovers, so we can''t get easy baskets. When we do zone a team, we kind of almost have to play possession for possession, and that is what we tried to do in the first half. We got away from that in the second half. 


"I am very proud of us." They''re still fighting for me and still and trying to give me everything they have got and trying to work and to get better. I can''t ask for much more as a coach. We''re just going to have to try to get a little bit better and a little bit more patient in the second half."


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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