Dominating defense sends Heritage Academy past Starkville Academy in boys' basketball


Heritage Academy coach Russ Whiteside addresses his team during Friday's win over Starkville Academy.

Heritage Academy coach Russ Whiteside addresses his team during Friday's win over Starkville Academy. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch


Scott Walters



STARKVILLE -- Heritage Academy junior basketball player Eli Acker had a quick answer to the question Friday night. 


When asked if a victory over rival Starkville Academy was sweeter in football or in basketball, he chose the fall sport. 


"I am a football guy, so football is a little better," Acker said. "Have to admit though this is pretty sweet as well." 


In the latest installment of the neighborhood academy rivalry, Heritage Academy routed Starkville Academy 38-14 in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 matchup at Volunteer Gym. 


In the major sports, the Patriots now own a football win and two basketball win over the Volunteers. 


"It's always fun to win here," Heritage Academy senior Moak Griffin said. "It's a great rivalry, so you want to come out and play your best. It means more as a senior to leave their court with a win," 


Heritage Academy left Oktibbeha County with a win, thanks to its effort on the defensive end. 


After Starkville Academy's Tanner Graves gave his team a 4-3 lead on a 3-point basket, the Volunteers went better than 16 minutes of playing time without scoring again. 


Overall, the Volunteers finished with four field goals. 


"Really proud of the defensive effort," Heritage Academy coach Russ Whiteside said. "We were doing some really good things with our ball pressure, making them uncomfortable. 


"We needed to play with some great effort on the defensive end, because we weren't doing anything on the offensive end. That had to be an ugly game to watch." 


Heritage Academy (20-2, 5-0 district) struggled to find shots early against Starkville Academy's 2-3 zone. Eventually, the Patriots hit to some outside shots and that opened up the passing lanes for big man Acker underneath. 


The Patriots led 20-4 at halftime. 


"We really made some good adjustments during the game," Whiteside said. "Can't say enough about how well Jack Kizer and Adam Koussih played on the defensive end. They were getting in passing lanes and forcing some turnovers. We got some great minutes from Gunnar Gale off the bench." 


Starkville Academy (9-12) finally halted its misfortune on the offensive end with 3-pointers from Tanner Graves and Logan Roch late in the third quarter. By then, the Patriots had things well in hand. 


"Their pressure defense really got to us," Starkville Academy coach Bruce Allsup said. "We are a young team and we are still learning how to play against really good defensive teams." 


With a spirited Starkville Academy student section ready to go, Griffin knew the importance of denying the Volunteers early and shaking their confidence level. 


"This all goes back to the defense," Griffin said. "They run an offense where you have to cut off the passing lanes and deny the basketball." 


Acker said a larger plying role for reserve players have helped the Patriots play as a more cohesive unit. 


"Jack (Kizar) and Adam (Koussih) have both stepped up for us," Acker said. "They both got to start. Defensively, they add a lot to our team. For guys like that you want to see them ball out on defensive end, because the offense is going to come as you get more playing time." 


Heritage Academy won the MAIS Class AAA state championship a year ago. With virtually that entire team back, the Patriots were expected to make more noise this year. However, injuries have forced the squad to take a different road to 20-2. 


"Couldn't be prouder for a group of guys for how well they have played this season," Whiteside said. "We have not played a game this season with our entire roster available. It's just been mix and match and trying to figure out what works one night against a given opponent. The plus side to being short-handed is some less experienced guys get more playing time. It hasn't been about a staring five going out and growing together, it's been a team growing together. Overcoming adversity and continuing to win will help this team tremendously in the postseason." 


Acker was the game's lone double-figure scorer. He finished with 12 points. 


Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott


Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.


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