Patriots pick up pace in AAA victory

February 16, 2019 5:21:56 AM

Adam Minichino - [email protected]


Russ Whiteside wanted the Heritage Academy boys basketball team to push the tempo Wednesday night. 


That's why Whiteside continued to exhort the Patriots to press the action in the first quarter even though not many things were going right -- or going in the basket. 


But neither Whiteside nor Jared Long let up. 


After going to its "big" lineup of Eli Acker, Cameron Bell, and Long, Heritage Academy finally found its legs in the second quarter. Long led the way by scoring 12 of his 16 points to help Heritage Academy regain its balance en route to an 81-33 victory in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA North State tournament at Heritage Academy in Columbus. 


"We started off the game rather slow, a lot slower how we usually start off," said Long, who has a wide wing span to go with a 6-foot-4, or 6-5 frame. "Coach Whiteside prides us on playing up to our tempo, playing fast, and 'D'ing up. We realized they couldn't really handle ball pressure, so we started to apply more ball pressure and they started to turn the ball over, and our defense led to offense." 


Heritage Academy trailed 12-7 after one quarter and slowly worked its way back up to speed. With Acker, who also is 6-5 and Bell, who is anywhere from 6-6 to 6-7, in the game at the same time, the Patriots still were able to turn up the defensive intensity. The length of Long and Bell helped Heritage Academy harass Lee Academy, while the combined size and girth of the three players made it difficult to keep them off the boards. 


As a result, Long found Bell for a layup to cut the deficit to 15-14. Long then took a pass from Moak Griffin to score and give the Patriots the lead for good. Long followed the basket with an offensive rebound follow and a drive from the top of the key. Reid Huskison added a layup off a turnover caused by the press and Long converted a three-point play as part of a 20-2 run to close the half. 


Whiteside said he hasn't gone to the "big" lineup very often this season in part because the Patriots haven't had all of their players healthy and available at the same time for very long. Bell transferred to the school at the start of 2019, which meant the Patriots had to juggle their rotation to add another weapon. 


Long said he likes what a big lineup could mean for the Patriots moving forward. 


"It is definitely something we will probably looking more to considering we are pretty much bigger than everybody else in our district, so we will definitely use our size to our advantage," Long said. "If they start to pack in the defense in the paint, that just opens up our shooters on the wing. Coach Whiteside says play from the inside out." 


Whiteside said a bigger lineup will give him team another option. He said the Patriots need to play with energy and as fast as possible to be successful. 


"I told them at halftime that I thought we took a lot of good shots but we just didn't make many," Whiteside said. "I thought we really played three quarters of basketball in the second, third, and fourth. I thought early in the second quarter we got it sped up a little bit to where we wanted it and played good the rest of the time." 


n In the girls game, No. 4 seed Heritage Academy gave top-seeded North Delta Academy all it could handle before falling 63-57. 


Bailey Harris led Heritage Academy with 19 points, while Sydney Adair added 17. Gigi Fields had 12 points and led the team in rebounding.  


Heritage Academy led by five points twice in the second quarter before taking a 33-31 halftime advantage. The score was tied three times in the third quarter before North Delta used a spurt led by Ally Alford, who scored 10 of her game-high 29 points in the stanza. North Delta Academy led 50-39 after three quarters. 


Heritage Academy chipped away at the deficit throughout the final eight minutes. Harris' 3-pointer with 28.3 seconds remaining cut it to 61-57, but the Lady Patriots missed three shots on two possessions to cut into the lead after North Delta Academy missed two free throws and committed a turnover in the final 16 seconds. Heritage Academy missed seven free throws in the fourth quarter. 


In the semifinals, the Starkville Academy girls will take on Leake Academy at 4 p.m. Friday. North Delta Academy will face Winston Academy at 5:15 p.m. Friday. 


In the boys action, Leake Academy will face Indianola Academy at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Heritage Academy (26-4) will play host to Canton Academy at 7:45 p.m. 


The top four teams qualify for the Class AAA North tournament, which will be at Leake Academy in Madden. 


n In other action Wednesday night, Cooper McCleskey had 17 points to lead the Caledonia High School boys basketball team to a 40-34 victory against Itawamba Agricultural High in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A, Region 2 tournament at the Davis Event Center in Fulton. 


Romeo Sanders added nine points and Davonte Martin had eight for the Confederates (24-6). 


"Tonight's game was a defensive battle from the tip," Caledonia coach Gary Griffin said. "We got down early, but we managed to battle our way back in the game before halftime. After taking an eight-point lead with four minutes remaining, we were able to utilize our guards to control the tempo of the game. I'm proud of our players, and I'm excited for our students at Caledonia High." 


n In other MAIS action, the Oak Hill Academy girls and boys lost in the Class AA North State tournament. The girls lost to Greenville Christian 47-42, while the boys lost to Manchester Academy 55-54. 


n In the Class A North State tournament, the Hebron Christian boys lost to Humphreys Academy 60-44. The Hebron Christian girls lost to Lee Academy (Ark.) 39-33.

Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.