Russ Whiteside isn’t a big fan of camouflage.
But the Heritage Academy boys basketball coach can learn to like it if his team plays like it did Friday night after receiving a lift from Patriots fans dressed in various shades of green and brown camo.
Dontae Gray had a game-high 19 points to lead four players in double figures in the Heritage Academy boys basketball team’s 67-44 victory in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 game.
Carter Putt had 16 points and Eli Acker and Josh Neal had 11 to help Heritage Academy (15-8) avenge a 47-42 loss to Starkville Academy on Dec. 15, 2017, in Starkville.
“To have a crowd here like that really energizes our team,” Whiteside said. “They don’t realize that. Our guys really feed off having that kind of crowd here and that noise and support. That is the way a home crowd should be. I am so thankful for all of the students who came out and supported us. It means a lot to me and it means a lot to our kids.”
Putt and Neal had five points apiece in a 21-point first quarter that set the tone. The ability of Neal and Putt to hit outside shots almost was like a sigh of relief after the Patriots had plenty of open looks but couldn’t hit from the perimeter.
Heritage Academy pushed the lead to 34-22 at halftime. It then used a 17-4 third quarter to gain separation.
Gray had eight of his points in the third quarter. At times, he looked like he did on the school’s football team and appeared focused on taking the game over.
“We just wanted to show them the kind of team we are,” Gray said. “We had a chip on our shoulder. We just wanted to prove we were better than them.
“Our student section came out and supported us and we put on a show for them.”
Gray did his best to impact the game in the third quarter. He opened the frame with a juke move into the lane and then he cupped the ball to make a left-handed finish. Gray also assisted on a 3-pointer by Putt before hitting 1 of 2 free throws, a 3-pointer, and making a layup.
“I just wanted to attack and get the lead as big as we can,” Gray said. “We played slow in the first game (against Starkville Academy). Today, we played fast and picked up the pace and played how we play.”
Whiteside credited his senior guard for taking control.
“We got a little bit of a lead to get them back in man-to-man and get them spread out a little bit,” Whiteside said. “He is dangerous when you can get a lead and get a team spread out defensively. He is so fast off the dribble, and tonight he was doing a good job finishing in the paint.”
Neal added six points in the third quarter to help give the Patriots a 51-26 lead with eight minutes remaining. He said Heritage Academy worked hard in practice to prepare for the rematch. Neal said it showed because they were more ready than they were the last time.
Neal credited the fans, too, for their support. He said it was agreed on that the fans would wear camouflage clothing, whether it was jackets, overalls, T-shirts, but he didn’t know who arranged it.
Neal said having the fans as a source of motivation made it easier to get comfortable and erase the frustration from the first meeting against Starkville Academy.
“The first couple of shots went in and we got it going from there,” Neal said.
Whiteside also was pleased with his team’s defense. He said that kind of energized effort will boost the Patriots’ confidence for the stretch run of the regular season and help it prepare for the district tournament, which will be next month at Heritage Academy.
“I think we guarded really hard and we contested more of their shots than we did the first time,” Whiteside said. “We gave up some layups the last time, and the Richardsons got hot against us. Maybe we did a little better job guarding them, but, at the same time, maybe they weren’t shooting it as well. I think the defensive pressure was the biggest thing.”
Brady Richardson led Starkville Academy with 14 points, Trey Tyler had 11 points and six rebounds. Noah Methvin had nine points, and Raegan Richardson had six points and seven assists.
Unfortunately, the Volunteers committed seven turnovers in a third quarter in which the Patriots outscored them 17-4.
n Starkville Academy 52, Heritage Academy 34: Aubree Campbell had a game-high 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range to lead the Lady Volunteers.
Campbell also had seven rebounds to help Starkville Academy sweep the regular-season series.
Mary Peyton Passons had 10 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. Lillee Alpe had seven points, four rebounds, and two assists, and Milla Davis had eight rebounds and four assists.
Starkville Academy led 24-18 at halftime. Alpe had seven points in the third quarter to help the Lady Volunteers extend the margin to 35-25 entering the fourth quarter.
Bailey Harris had 13 points to lead Heritage Academy. Anna Acker added eight.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.