STARKVILLE — The pieces are starting to come together for Yandell Harris.
The Heritage Academy boys basketball coach has only been in charge for a month, but he has seen steady improvement — and wins — come from a team with just two seniors.
On Tuesday, Heritage Academy”s 67-47 win against rival Starkville Academy showed Harris his team can adapt and make shots consistently on the road.
The Patriots (5-2) turned a five-point lead at the end of the first quarter into a 20-point plus lead through much of the second half, due in large to double-digit scoring nights from Brad Dickey and Cole Walker, who had 16 and 14 points, respectively. Cade Lott added 10.
Three days prior to the their blowout in Starkville, the Patriots defeated the Volunteers 47-39 at the Madison-Ridgeland Academy Tournament. Unlike the first matchup, the Patriots hit jump shots Tuesday.
Dickey and Walker benefited from Harris” decision to run three post players at the undersized Volunteers (4-6, 0-2 Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA-2 North), and better looks at the basket came inside and out.
The team”s recent struggles from the perimeter forced the move, Harris said.
“That made us real hard to guard,” Harris said. “We had put in a couple of sets and one of them was where we really focus on getting the ball to the block. We run our two play, that UCLA cut, and off of that we get into three posts.
“But you had guards knocking down shots, too. It”s good to see us scoring some from the perimeter so we don”t have to go to a jam-up, post-type offense.”
While Harris saw his team step forward, Starkville Academy coach Chris Lyle”s team lost its third straight. The biggest difference Harris saw in his Patriots since the last time they faced his team was what Lyle deemed the tipping point to an otherwise nip-tuck game through the first 10 minutes.
An Austin Marsh 3-pointer and a steal and layup by Ian Tharp left Starkville Academy trailing 23-20 before Heritage Academy caught fire. A pair of 3-pointers from Walker and buckets from four players highlighted a 16-5 Patriots” run to close the first half that gave the visitors a 39-25 lead.
“They had a lot of confidence shooting the ball, and we didn”t,” Lyle said. “They got after us on defense, and we didn”t handle it very well. I”m very disappointed, but we”ll try to put this one behind us.”
Starkville Academy cut Heritage Academy”s lead to 13 with a minute left in the third quarter but had no answer for the Patriots” size.
J.R. Gerhart led Starkville Academy with 12 points, and Kyle Lomen had nine.
The Volunteers play at Washington School on Thursday, while the Patriots play at Pillow Academy.
Starkville Academy 44, Heritage Academy 35
Sophomore Anna Lea Little had 23 points to lead the Lady Volunteers.
Little, a former standout at Starkville Christian, was 5 of 5 from 3-point range (8 of 12 overall) and grabbed 12 rebounds to record her second consecutive double-double. She also had four blocked shots.
“She has adjusted to this school very well,” Starkville Academy coach Glenn Schmidt said of Little”s move from Starkville Christian. “The only other adjustment she”s had to make is sometimes I have to tell her this isn”t pickup ball. We kind of tease her sometimes (by telling her) this isn”t Sunday afternoon.”
The Lady Volunteers (8-6, 1-1 North AAA-1) built a 16-2 lead in the first quarter thanks to Little”s 15 first-half points, 12 of which came from behind the 3-point arc.
Little, who had 19 points Saturday against East Rankin, found little opposition deep, helping the Lady Volunteers build leads of 19-8 and 22-8 in the second quarter. They led 26-11 at halftime.
“(Starkville) came out, hit us in the mouth, and we didn”t respond,” Heritage Academy coach Bruce Allsup said.
The Lady Patriots (5-6, 0-2 North AAA-2) missed their first seven shots, turned the ball over five times in the first quarter, and shot 28.8 percent.
However, the Lady Patriots used a full-court press in the third quarter and forced six second-half steals. The defense helped cut the deficit to 31-17, at the 1-minute, 45-second mark of the third quarter.
“Anytime you play a Bruce Allsup-coached Heritage team you know they got more in them,” Schmidt said.
Heritage Academy used a 12-2 run in the fourth quarter to climb within seven points. Bailey Rader had a pair of layups and Christibeth Nelson knocked down two 3-pointers during the run, but the Lady Patriots struggled against the clock and turned to fouls with less than a minute remaining.
Nelson, whose outside shooting sparked a victory against Starkville Academy in October in Columbus, had 17 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter.
“She”s definitely our number one scorer,” Allsup said. “We set some good down screens for her and she got us back in it.”
Despite the slow start, Allsup was pleased to see his team claw back from a 19-point deficit.
“I”ve never been more disappointed than I was in the first half,” Allsup said, “but I couldn”t have been prouder of the way we played in the second half. The girls showed a will to win and never quit.”
Starkville Academy will play Thursday at Washington School.
NOTE: Heritage Academy junior forward Rachel Hollivay is expected to return Saturday against Washington after battling strep throat. Hollivay had been sidelined after having foot surgery eight weeks ago.
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