MACON — T.J. Billups had moments of relative relaxation doing double duty Tuesday night.
Unfortunately, periods of aggravated twitching, frustrated twisting, and agitated standing ruined what could have been an overly satisfying evening for the Noxubee County High girls and boys basketball coach.
Jeraldine Campbell scored 17 of her game-high 32 points in the fourth quarter to help the Noxubee County girls pull away and defeat West Point 55-49.
Dontavious Singleton had 16 points to lead three players in double figures in the Noxubee County High boys team”s 66-52 victory.
The victories were similar in that the girls (5-2) and boys (6-2) flashed stretches of solid play. They used their quick, undersized lineups to run offenses that fed their strengths and, at times, played solid defense that forced turnovers that led to easy transition baskets.
The other periods of play led to Billups” discomfort.
“We spend countless hours working on just breaking the press and we get into the game and we do the exact opposite (of what we have worked on),” Billups said. “We made some very bad decisions on our passes. Like you said, we basically shoot ourselves in the foot on offense.”
But when you have a player like Campbell, a 5-foot-10 junior guard, life is a little easier. Campbell scored the majority of her points Tuesday night on drives to the basket Her ability to take the ball to the left using her left hand allowed her to break down the defense and drive the baseline past would-be defenders.
Kelsei Ewings provided the same punch for West Point.
The 5-8 junior guard did most of her damage, though, from long distance. Ewings” 3-pointer with 5 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter gave West Point its final lead, 41-39.
A layup by Brianna Brooks (11 points) tied the game at 41 and set the stage for Campbell, who followed a free throw Ciera Chandler and converted a three-point play off a baseline drive to give Noxubee County a 45-41 lead with 4:02 to play.
The margin shrunk to 45-44 after Yakira Edwards hit 1 of 2 free throws with 2:34 to go, But Campbell hit two free throws and converted a runner to kick it to 49-44 with 1:53 to go.
A 3-pointer by Kourtney Crowley (10 points) and another free throw by Edwards (six) trimmed the deficit to 51-49 with 21 seconds to go, but Campbell hit 4 of 4 free throws to ice it.
“I think the team can be pretty good defensively as long as we can learn to play without fouling,” Billups said. “We”re not a very deep team, so we have to sit back in a zone, but I think we”re better when we”re pressuring the ball. We need to get some points from our post players. We can”t let Jeraldine take the whole load on every night.”
In the boys game, Noxubee County led by as many as 17 in the second quarter and 44-25 after a steal and a layup by Howard Spann (14 points) with 7:06 to go in the third quarter.
But Lakin Ford (game-high 23 points fueled a comeback by West Point (1-5) that saw the Green Wave cut the deficit to 53-45 at the start of the fourth quarter. Ford hit 1 of 2 free throws with 7:11 left in the fourth quarter after a technical foul to help West Point, which welcomed its football players back from their Class 5A state title victory Saturday, cut its deficit to 53-47. The Green Wave had a chance to cut the margin to three but missed on its next possession.
Noxubee County responded, using a basket inside by Javodkies Tate, a basket by Spann, a layup off a turnover by Singleton, and an offensive rebound putback by Tate to restore order.
“I think the boys can be a very good team,” Billups said. “I think we have two great point guards and two good shooters on the wing. Our missing piece is a dominant post player.”
Billups said focus will be key for the Tigers because they will be able to pressure teams with their quickness full court or in a half-court set.
Myquell Grace added 13 points for Noxubee County.
Ford dominated at times for the Green Wave, who anticipate having senior Michael Carr back sometime soon. West Point coach Winston Varnado said Carr is preparing to take the ACT test and is finishing up football responsibilities before he re-joins the basketball team.
Until then, Varnado said Ford will have to continue to play like he did Tuesday night to lead the Green Wave.
Ford scored seven consecutive points early in the third quarter to fuel the comeback. He ignited the rally with a dunk that sent a murmur through the crowd. The 6-5 swingman has added muscle to his frame and more explosiveness that should make him a handful to deal with this season.
“He has taken his game to another level,” Varnado said. “He realizes he is the leader of this team right now and that he has to carry us for a while until the football guys get into basketball shape.
“He has that killer instinct now. He learned over the summer that we”re going to go as he goes and he has to play more aggressive. He is trying to get a scholarship out of this thing, too, and I think he has a good shot to get one.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.