January 11, 2017 10:31:45 AM
Scott Walters - email@example.com
Joseph Riley knew what to do when the Heritage Academy student section started chanting his name.
Riley worked to get open, took a pass at the top of the key, and drained a 3-pointer.
The student section went delirious after the basket, Riley's first of four in a 72-30 rout of Winston Academy on Tuesday night in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 opener.
"When everybody plays and everybody scores it sure is fun," Heritage Academy junior Dontae Gray said. "That was a total team effort and a lot of fun."
Heritage Academy worked off its rust in its first game following a three-week break for Christmas. The Patriots shook off a cold-shooting first half by scoring the first 17 points of the second half.
"When we play together, we can be a dangerous team," Heritage Academy senior Tyner
Swedenburg. "I think we are excited about
playing. We are just beginning to realize our capabilities. We have to keep working at it to make this a great basketball team."
Heritage Academy first-year coach Russ Whiteside said he was pleased with how the 2016 portion of the schedule went (eight wins in 10 tries). Time during the holidays was spent fine-tuning areas, such as becoming a better defensive rebounding team.
"We shot it terrible in the first half," Whiteside said. "Before Christmas, we weren't rebounding well on the defensive end. We made a lot of strides there. The offensive rebounds were key in the first half because we weren't making anything from the field or the free-throw line."
Gray said the long layoff hurt the team. While waiting for the offense to open up, the Patriots did what they do best -- lots of quality passing and lots of looks for open men.
"We share the basketball great," Gray said. "That is the best thing about our team. The chemistry is really good, and we do a great job of getting everybody involved. When you are making shots, it's good that you can extend possession. We needed those second and third chances in the first half."
Heritage Academy had three first-half possessions that included four shots and three offensive rebounds.
Whiteside said his team's intelligence has stood out the most since he was hired during the summer.
"We really like our guards," Whiteside said. "We have a senior guard in Dalton Ford and a junior guard in Donate Gray, and they are both very experienced players. They know how to share the ball. Our senior post players know how to share the ball. That is good because it makes up for our lack of size."
Leading 30-14 at halftime, Heritage Academy needed four minutes to drop the first 17 points of the final half. Each starter scored in the run.
"We really defended well in the second half," Swedenburg said. "We got some turnovers and that led to some easy baskets. We have some athletes and they can really slash going to the basket. If we can defend, we will have enough offense to be successful."
As the run mounted, the student section picked out favorites. Logan Perkins also was called out and delivered one of his team's five 3-pointers.
For the Patriots, it was a good way to get back into the flow. On Monday, The Clarion-Ledger ranked Heritage Academy third in the state in Class AAA.
"It just kind of validated to the kids what we are trying to accomplish," Whiteside said. "When they see how hard we play and when they see what we can accomplish in a half (like the second half), they know what we are capable of doing."
Swedenburg had 12 points and 10 rebounds, while John Isaac Stafford and Riley had 10. Ryan Edwards had nine points. Gray had seven points and six assists.
In the opener, the Heritage Academy girls fell to 4-11 with a 30-24 defeat. Tyler Rhett had eight points for the Lady Patriots.
n In other action Tuesday, Starkville took two games from West Lowndes. In the opener, the Starkville girls won 55-22. The boys completed the sweep with a 71-43 victory.
Prior to the game, Starkville High senior Kelsey Jones was nominated for the annual McDonald's High School All American Games. Mississippi State signees Myah Taylor and Nyah Tate on the women's side and Nick Weatherspoon on the men's side also were nominated.
The games will be March 29 at the United Center in Chicago.
n Pickens Academy (boys) 57, North River Christian 30: Nyc Gann had 18 points to lead the Pirates (9-1).
Lee Acker added 12 points and 12 rebounds for Pickens Academy, which will play Russell Christian on Thursday in Carrollton, Alabama.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter