CALEDONIA — Turn it up.
Faced with elimination and the end of their seasons Tuesday night, the Noxubee County High School basketball teams answered the call.
The challenge Thursday will be to ratchet up their pressure defense and their execution another notch to prolong their seasons.
Daquarius Mallard had a game-high 25 points to lead third-seeded Noxubee County to an 86-58 victory against sixth-seeded Caledonia in the MHSAA Class 4, Region 4, District 4 Tournament at Caledonia High School.
On the girls side, Ty-niesa Mickens scored a team-high 17 points to lead fourth-seeded Noxubee County to a 74-43 against fifth-seeded Louisville.
The victories push the Noxubee County boys (14-10) into a matchup against second-seeded Kosciusko at 7 p.m. Thursday, while the Noxubee County girls (15-10) will play top-seeded Houston at 4 p.m. Thursday. The winners of those games will move on to Friday to play for the district titles.
Noxubee County coach T.J. Billups said the return of senior forward Vincent Sanders from a hamstring injury and the improved play of younger players could be a key to helping the Tigers extend their season.
Last week, Sanders signed a National Letter of Intent to play football at Ole Miss. On the basketball court, though, Sanders gives the Tigers a long, lean defender who is explosive going to the basket.
Noxubee County didn”t need Sanders” slashing and slicing moves against Caledonia. The Tigers shook off a slow start and built a 10-point lead by the start of the second quarter and cruised from there.
Billups used his entire roster, and 12 players scored in a balanced effort.
Myquell Grace had 15 points, Terrence Barron had nine, and Sanders added eight.
“I wanted to get a lot of people playing time,” Billups said. “We have three games in four nights, plus I wanted to get the starters a lot of rest. We had a ninth-grader and an eighth-grader out there.”
Billups said Noxubee County started the season with seven seniors, but now has only three seniors who play due to eligibility issues. The result has given many of the Tigers” younger players an opportunity to gain valuable experience.
Those players capitalized Tuesday, and now Billups hopes they can deliver an even better effort Thursday night.
“We have to use the last game against Louisville (a loss) as motivation, plus we have to go in and respect them,” Billups said. “I think that loss took our minds out of the clouds. Louisville played with more energy and they moved the ball better than we did. I would rather have it happen then than have it happen now. I think our kids are going to come out and play with the same energy and effort they played with tonight.”
Without leading scorer Jeraldine Campbell, who was a member of The Clarion Ledger”s Dandy Dozen, the girls had a balanced attack, as Aja Forte scored 15 points and Ciera Chandler scored 13.
Noxubee County used a full-court pressure defense to create turnovers and easy baskets. The result was a confident effort in which Billups said the team showed it is learning how to do things for itself without Campbell”s scoring skills.
“A lot of those girls have never played without Jeraldine,” Billups said. “Most of the time they have sat around and watched Jeraldine be great. It has taken a while, and I am still trying to get it into some of their heads to be aggressive with the ball and to be aggressive and score.”
n In other games Tuesday, Tre Boyd had a game-high 28 points to lead fourth-seeded Kosciusko to a 73-56 victory against fifth-seeded Amory.
Earl Barksdale had 13 points, Jamie Riley had nine, and Jermaine Harris added eight for the Whippets (16-9), who extended a 34-30 halftime lead to double digits in the third quarter.
Tanner Poole had 16 points, Dario Robinson added 15, Jaylon Fair had 10, and Chris French added eight for the Panthers.
In the other girls game, Alexandria Thompson had 15 points, Keonna Ford had 13, and Breonna Ford added 10 to lead the third-seeded Amory Lady Panthers to a 59-34 victory against sixth-seeded Caledonia.
Jelisha Hackman had eight points and Sarah Guess added six for the Lady Confederates.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.