January 26, 2011 8:28:00 AM
The New Hope High School boys basketball team hasn''t had the biggest or the fastest or the most talented array of players the past two seasons.
But the Trojans have made up for what they have lacked in those areas with a gritty, never-say-die mentality that has fueled their success.
On Tuesday, New Hope coach Drew McBrayer saw signs that his latest team might have found that same mentality.
Hank Washington hit the clinching free throw with 3.7 seconds remaining in overtime and Jamal Richardson blocked Laquintis Robertson''s shot from the left wing as time expired to help New Hope rally for a 69-68 victory in a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A, Division 2, District 1 victory in Columbus.
The Trojans (11-9, 3-1 district) rallied from a 12-point deficit in the third quarter even though they were 5 of 17 from the free-throw line in the second half and OT. McBrayer said those numbers were atypical because his team has shot better than 70 percent from the free-throw line this season.
McBrayer said the tenacity his squad showed in battling back could be a valuable lesson to help his team reach its potential for the stretch run.
"That''s really the first time in a while that I have seen that toughness, that grit to get out there and make plays," McBrayer said. "We have been struggling to find that. Hopefully what we found in the second half tonight we can keep with us for the rest of the season. Getting after it like that will win ballgames."
Thomas converted a three-point play with 51.7 seconds remaining to tie the game at 60. New Hope failed to get a quality shot on the final possession after calling a timeout with 35.1 seconds to play.
In overtime, Robertson completed a three-point play on a drive to give West Point a 68-66 lead. Richardson''s drive and kiss off the backboard tied the game with 28 seconds. West Point called timeout with 15.5 seconds and designed a play for Robertson on the right wing, but his shot with less than five seconds to go was short. He fouled Washington in a scramble for the rebound with 3.7 seconds left.
Washington missed the first free throw and drained the second for the final margin. Richardson shadowed Robertson as he raced up court on the final sequence. He blocked the ball from behind just as Robertson went up to an attempt a shot from near the 3-point line on the right wing.
New Hope last won a state title in 2008 with a talented cast that included Rashanti Harris, Dale Hughes, and others. The teams that have followed have lacked Division I standouts but have relied on a hard-nosed, disciplined approach that has helped it nearly knock off some of the state''s best teams.
This season, McBrayer, who is in his second season as head coach, said his younger players are trying to find that mind-set.
"Maybe it has taken this long for it to come around," McBrayer said. "We have been fighting every day to get to that. We have to be able to execute and to be tougher. The way we have been in the past, that is the way we have won ballgames."
Lawrence Brown had a team-high 17 points to pace four players in double figures. Joc Pilgrim had 16 points, while Washington and Richardson each had 13.
Robertson led all scorers with 19 points for West Point (9-9, 2-1). Daryl Thomas had 14, and Quarte Gaston and Cortez Malone each had eight.
West Point coach Brad Cox credited New Hope for knocking his team out its rhythm in the second half and pushing it away from what it wanted to do.
"They didn''t quit, and we knew they wouldn''t," Cox said. "They had a few shots go their way and we had a few not go our way. Before you know it, 12 is not much in basketball. It doesn''t take long for that to disappear. They made plays when they needed to, and we had our chances and didn''t make the play when we needed to."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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