February 9, 2018 10:40:56 AM
Heritage Academy boys basketball coach Russ Whiteside wasn't worried at halftime of his team's game Thursday night.
Concerned? Yes. Worried? No.
In the opening half of the semifinal round of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 tournament, few things went the way of the homestanding Patriots.
"We needed a spark. There was no doubt about that," Heritage Academy senior Dontae Gray said.
Gray and teammate Reid Huskison provided that spark as Heritage Academy ended the game on a 39-12 run to take a 52-41 victory against Leake Academy.
Heritage Academy (21-10) will face Canton Academy at 5:45 p.m. Saturday for the district tournament championship.
"We didn't play badly in the first half," Whiteside said. "I thought we played hard. We played with effort. We just didn't execute. That, and they hit just about every shot they took."
Leake Academy hit 4 of 5 3-pointers and left the standing-room only Heritage Academy student section shell shocked by taking a 28-13 halftime lead.
"Coach gave us a real good speech at halftime," Huskison said. "The players talked about it. It was like, 'We really can't lose this game.' We were playing at home and all that. The thing about this team is we never quit believing. We just had to make some shots."
The "make shots" category is where the 5-foot-8 sophomore Huskison delivered. He nailed three-straight 3-pointers in a 75-second stretch of the fourth quarter.
By that time, several Patriots had helped the team get back in the game.
Trailing 29-13, the Patriots reeled off 12-straight points in less than 90 seconds. Eli Acker had two blocked shots, while Gray had three steals in the run. Gray also had seven of the 12 points.
"We just had to execute better on offense," Gray said. "That was the message at halftime. Even though we were down 16, there wasn't a lot of panic. We just had to start making a bunch of plays. Good defense led to good offense."
Gray then scored the final four points of the quarter to bring the Patriots within four.
The tide turned for good when Huskison started feeling things from long-range. His second 3-pointer gave Heritage Academy its first lead with 4 minutes, 45 seconds remaining. His next three pushed the Patriots to a four-point advantage.
"Things got exciting there for a minute," Huskison said. "Our student section was great, and they really got things going for us there in the second half."
Whiteside has seen his team turn up the intensity.
"When we have five guys locked in on the defensive end, we are difficult to beat," Whiteside said. "I never get too worried during a game because these kids have a knack for responding."
The Patriots then expanded a 40-38 lead by scoring 11-straight points. Josh Neal and Jared Long led the way during that outburst.
"Four quarters of execution," Gray said. "That's the key for this team. Reid gave us a heck of a spark off the bench. He was something else."
Gray and Huskison had 13 points. Neither player scored in the first half.
"It was a struggle to start the game, but we got things right when we needed to," Huskison said. "We know if we play to our potential, we can win a state championship."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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