STARKVILLE — A few noticeable faces were missing from Starkville High School”s state title game rematch against Meridian on Tuesday night.
Meridian”s Rodney Hood and Matthew Hurn were there, but the Yellow Jackets duo of Rashad Perkins and Edward Townsel were at their respective college campuses readying for the season.
The calmness two high-caliber seniors bring to a lineup can”t be devalued, and SHS head coach Greg Carter saw the lack of leadership plague his team from the opening whistle of a 70-59 loss.
Starkville (1-1) started the game in a 7-0 hole before Carter called his first time out. The Jackets then pulled within two before trailing by as many as 19 in the second quarter.
Missed free throws, turnovers and frantic, uncontrolled drives to the basket all contributed to the Jackets” sluggish start.
“In the first half, they just picked us apart and did any and everything they wanted to do,” Carter said. “We rushed everything we did in the first half. We played like we were a bunch of new guys. Like a bunch of seventh graders.”
Then there was Hood.
The Mississippi State commit had 33 points on 10 of 15 makes from the floor. Hood made 11 of 12 free throws. He scored 10 of Meridian”s first 20 points.
Guarding the 6-foot-7 forward created a headache for Carter, whose only option was to keep a body on him and hope to challenge his quick pull-up jump shots.
The strategy worked brilliantly in the state title game, when the Jackets held Hood to 14 points on 6 of 18 shooting.
But there”s not many 6-foot-7 ball handlers on the perimeter, which makes Hood a difficult matchup.
“What he does, he doesn”t drive to the basket, he pulls up and shoots jump shots,” Carter said of Hood. “We wanted to be up under him so when he did put it on the floor, we would be all up in him when he shot it.
“He”s better than what he was last year, I”ll give him that,” Carter said. “He”s worked hard since we played him last year, and he”s improved. He was unguardable for us tonight. I think they had one turnover from when we doubled him tonight.”
Hood signed his National Letter of Intent this morning.
Starkville was led by junior guard Jacolby Mobley, who finished with 14 points.
Junior center Gavin Ware had 10 and Steven Brand had 9.
Mobley proved to be the second half catalyst Starkville needed, helping the Jackets from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to a manageable eight-point gap. Mobley had 11 points in the run, including a 3-pointer, an and-1 attempt and a layup over Hood.
But for every knifing cut and score, Mobley had a turnover or forced shot that stymied his own efforts.
For Starkville to move forward, its back court must be stabilized. As the most experienced guard, it all starts with Mobley, Carter said.
“He plays on emotion,” Carter added, “and when you play that way, your game tends to go up and down. It”s hard to be that level guy when you”re playing on the emotions of peaks and valleys.
Rashad used to be like that early on in his career. And as a senior he played on emotion, but he controlled it a lot better. He”s got to get the same way.”
Starkville returns to the court Saturday when it faces Jackson Callaway at the Grenada Classic.
Meridian (2-0) travels to Jim Hill on Thursday.
Meridian 68, Starkville 46
The Starkville Lady Jackets never recovered from a disastrous first quarter against Meridian, trailing by double digits for nearly all of their 68-46 loss Tuesday.
Starkville trailed 18-4 at the end of the first quarter and fell behind by as many as 18 in the fourth quarter.
But for the last six minutes of the second quarter, it appeared the Lady Jackets had gained traction and slowed down its hurried tempo.
Trailing by 17, forward Rebecca Myles had a pair of put-backs to help pull the Lady Jackets within 10 with two minutes to go in the half. Starkville (0-2) went into the break trailing 28-16.
That”s when SHS head coach Kristie Williams” challenge began.
If Starkville could maintain its intensity and clean play, it would have a chance to cut into Meridian”s lead. A lapse would result in a repeat of the start of the game.
The Lady Jackets had the breakdown Williams had hoped to avoid, giving up a 16-2 run in the third quarter.
“I thought the momentum was swinging our way, finally,” Williams said following the game. “But that time frame you have to take off to go to half time, for some reason it didn”t set well with my girls once the game restarted. I don”t understand. We”re still waiting for leadership to be a big plus for us, and until we can put all the pieces of the puzzle together, we”re gonna have long nights like tonight.”
Starkville was led by senior forward Courtney Moore”s 17 points. Myles and Jonnissa Buchanan each had 7.
Moore, who suffered a hip pointer at last week”s jamboree, played for the first time this season.
“She hit 17 points, got some key rebounds, and we”re just fortunate she was able to come back so quickly,” Williams said. “She told me at half time she was a little bit sore, and I told her it was all up to her level of pain. She”s a leader, and we expect for her to do great.”
Meridian was paced by Aquishia Anderson”s 20 points. Kayla Gordon had 13.
Starkville returns to action Saturday against Lake in the Newton Classic at East Central Community College.