While there is a considerable age gap, New Hope High School junior RL Mattix and eighth-grader LJ Hackman are bonding quickly on the basketball court.
“I love (Hackman’s) confidence,” Mattix said. “If he misses a shot, he is going to keep shooting. He has played with us since the summer. You could tell early he was going to be able to help us right away. You forget how young he is because he is one of us now and we count on him to make big plays.”
With the Trojans mired in an offensive struggle Tuesday night, the duo came alive with a combined 20 third-quarter points at New Hope rallied past Louisville 54-42 in a Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A, Region 4 game at Trojan Gym.
New Hope (15-11, 6-2) will be the No. 2 seed in the region tournament next week at Leake Central. The Trojans have battled back from a 4-8 start to the season.
“This team has really responded with a great second half of the season,” New Hope coach Drew McBrayer said. “Each game we have that stretch where we really struggle. However, we keep rebounding and we keep playing hard during those tough offensive stretches. To the kids’ credit, there is also a stretch in just about every game where we play really well. When one player lifts us, the others fall in line. The confidence level jumps quickly as a team when we have a stretch where we are playing well.”
The New Hope offense went missing in the second quarter, as Mattix scored the team’s four points in that quarter. Still, Caleb Parr mixed in some blocked shots and Tikorian Chandler had four steals to make sure the Trojans stayed within striking distance and trailed 21-18 at halftime.
“We talked about having better possessions, taking better shots,” McBrayer said. “Louisville packed in that zone in the first half. In the second half, RL got going and made some shots and they had to come out and guard us. Then LJ hit a couple thanks to some good floor spacing.”
After Parr scored on a putback, Louisville’s Tequavious Braggs hit a 3-pointer to give his team a 30-22 lead.
Mattix then hit a 3-pointer and after a steal by Javares Roberts, Mattix converted an old-fashioned three-point play. After a quick shot by the Wildcats, Mattix drove to the goal and tied the game with a layup.
“It was go time because we were really struggling out there,” Mattix said. “We really didn’t have any energy on the floor. We weren’t as patient as we needed to be on offense and there were too many turnovers. Fortunately, a few shots fell and the whole team got going.”
Mattix capped a personal 10-0 run before Hackman rammed home the first of his two 3-pointers.
Mattix had 14 points and Hackman had those two treys in a 22-point third quarter to give the Trojans a 40-32 lead.
Parr scored two baskets and Hackman had another field goal to cap a 6-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter to help the Trojans take control.
“In the first half, our shots weren’t falling,” Hackman said. “At the half, coach told us to keep shooting. We were doing everything else right. We just had to make some shots.”
Hackman has been a key to the Trojans’ second-half of the season surge. Even without Hackman, McBrayer said his eighth-grade team may be the best group he has coached.
“RL is our leader. We go as he goes,” McBrayer said. “He is doing such a great job with the young guys. You can see it every day in practice.”
Hackman feels comfortable on the varsity level. He also likes his quickly budding friendship with Mattix.
“He does everything well,” Hackman said. “He keeps everybody under control and he puts us in a position to succeed. It’s just great being out there, watching and learning.”
Mattix had 18 points, while Hackman and Chandler had eight. Presley Langford had seven, while Parr had six points, 10 rebounds, and three blocked shots.
Bryandrea Shumaker had 17 points for Louisville (13-10, 3-5).
In the opener, the Louisville girls earned a 47-33 victory.
India Woods had 11 points for New Hope (10-14, 3-5).
n In other action Tuesday, the Columbus High School basketball teams swept a non-region doubleheader from Noxubee County.
The Columbus girls won 81-11, while the Columbus boys took a 56-51 victory.
For the Lady Falcons (21-2), Hannah White had 21 points, while JaTyler Turner had 10.
For the Falcons (10-14), Tijah McCrary had 18 points.
n Jawon Yarbrough had 16 points, but the Starkville Academy boys basketball tam lost to Winston Academy 54-52 in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 tournament at Leake Academy. Winston Academy will take on Heritage Academy at 5:15 p.m. Thursday.
The Heritage Academy girls basketball team kept its season alive with a 51-47 victory against Canton Academy on the opening night of the MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 tournament.
The Heritage Academy girls face top-seeded Leake Academy at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. The win qualifies the Lady Patriots for next week’s North State tournament at Heritage Academy.
n Caroline Lewis and Shelby Lowe had 13 points to lead the Pickens Academy girls basketball team to a 51-11 victory against Escambia Academy.
Audrey Fondren had 12 points and Britney Fitch added 10. Lowe also had 10 rebounds.
Pickens Academy (11-10) will play Lowndes Academy at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Elite Eight of the Alabama Independent School Association Class AA tournament in Montgomery, Alabama.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.