STARKVILLE — Starkville High School boys basketball coach Greg Carter knew his team needed a win before the Thanksgiving break.
That task proved to be a challenge, but outstanding guard play lifted Starkville to its first victory of the season, a 48-46 nail biter against Columbus on Tuesday night.
“Our guards played really well,” Carter said. “I thought Richard Evans and Zeb Rice shot it really well, especially early in the first half. Richard was that steady handle for us. He didn’t turn it over and got us off to a pretty good start. I thought that was important to get off to a pretty good start.
“We want to win every time we step foot on the court, especially against Columbus. This team needed a win after losing the first two. First game we were in position to win and we just lost focus in the second half, and Meridian just came in and overwhelmed us, so we needed something positive going into the Thanksgiving holidays. We’ve got a couple of weeks before our next game, and that would have been a long two weeks of practice. We needed that win.”
The teams were nip-and-tuck throughout. Behind some early 3-point shooting by Evans, the Yellow Jackets led 17-16 at the end of the first quarter. The teams were tied at 29 at halftime. In the second half, Starkville turned defensive and maintained its lead.
Columbus (1-1) trailed by five entering the fourth quarter, but it fell behind by nine after two 3-pointers by Rice.
“We’re shooting it well in practice, shooting it well in the drills, (and) we’re shooting it well in the scrimmages during practice,” Carter said. “The shots we had against Meridian, we had some good looks that just didn’t go in. I think part of it is us pressing so hard to get a basket. At the very beginning tonight we were rushing a little bit, then we calmed it down and shots started to fall and we made jumpers. We were able to execute some set plays, something we hadn’t been able to do during the first two games. We could see some improvement.”
Remadus Beasley paced Columbus with 14 points, while Brandon Porter added 13.
Evans led the Yellow Jackets with 19 points.
“It was a tough time for the defense and trying to control the pace of the game, but I think we did pretty good overall,” Rice said. “We let them get too many layups, but, at the same time, we did a pretty good job of keeping them off the boards, and just guarding them one on one keeping them in between the basket.”
The Falcons used a 6-0 run from the hands of Devin Berry and Beasley to make it a three point game. Beasley forced a steal and threw down a slam dunk to quiet the Starkville faithful to cut the lead to one. After a foul by the Falcons, Starkville’s Avonte Amos hit one free throw to give Columbus a chance to tie the game.
“They changed the defense on us, which threw me off a little bit, and after that I wanted to get one close to the basket and try one,” Columbus coach Sammy Smith said. “Things happened bad prior to that shot. We didn’t box out and get the rebound, which cost us three or four seconds. Those are things we can correct.”
With 3.3 seconds on the clock, C.J. Scott received the inbounds, fired a prayer form half court and barely missed the rim.
“You never feel good about a loss, but I do see some things that are very correctable,” Smith said. “We made some progress. Starkville has a tradition behind them, they know how to win, and they knew how to close this game out. We didn’t execute at the opportune time, but I think we will be better. You got to have good character and discipline, and I don’t think we were disciplined. Our character shut down for too long of a time and that shuts discipline down. I think these kids got that and will have to do it together. We’ve got some guys that have a lot of experience out there.”
“Our kids have got to believe in what we’re doing, stay together, and it will work out. I think we have all the ingredients to do that. We have good quality kids and I have got to do a better job as a coach. We have some things that need fixing.”
Girls: Starkville 79, Columbus 65
Starkville High coach Kristie Williams had been waiting for her team to play a complete game. She got it Tuesday night when the Lady Jackets beat the Lady Falcons for their first victory of the season.
The Lady Jackets erased a 14-point first-quarter deficit to take a 30-27 halftime lead. The Lady Falcons couldn’t overcome a prolonged scoring draught in the third quarter as the Lady Jackets slowly built a commanding lead.
Imane Montgomery and Blair Schaefer provided a 1-2 punch for Starkville. Montgomery had 26 points, while Schaefer had 25 points and 13 assists. Kadaryl Ledbetter and Laterrica Jefferson led the Lady Falcons with 15 points apiece.
“This was a tough three-game stretch,” Williams said. “These first three games were really tough teams, and to get one of the victories out of these three tough teams is a plus for us going into our Thanksgiving break. We knew Columbus was going to be a challenge because they always are. They are our rival team and a 6A opponent is always tough for us. We started out slow and weren’t able to capitalize with chip shots around the rim, but once we settled down and started dictating on defense, adding that pressure, we were able to get turnovers and some easy baskets. That led to us getting the momentum back on our side. It feels good to get our first win.”