The Starkville Academy boys basketball team has already taken to heart a piece of wisdom from first-year head coach Bill Ball: Win the first two minutes and last two minutes of every quarter.
At home Thursday against Magnolia Heights, the Volunteers made it their mission to do just that, and it worked to perfection. Starkville Academy got out to a good start early, pulled away in the second quarter and beat the Chiefs 44-32 for the first win of Ball’s career at the school.
“That’s a heck of a first win in my tenure here and for these kids,” said Ball, who formerly coached at Jackson Academy. “I think that we’re gonna continue to grow and get better as we try to understand what I want from them …”
That timely offense in the beginning and end of each quarter gave Starkville Academy momentum, sophomore George Delp said, but the defense the Vols played was an even bigger catalyst for Thursday’s win.
“Pressured them into making a lot of turnovers, which gave us a good lead and a good momentum boost,” Delp said.
It was clear Thursday that the Vols were undersized against Magnolia Heights, and Ball expects that trend to continue throughout the season. But Starkville Academy, playing with one senior, didn’t let any disadvantages in height or in experience deter it.
“We play harder, push them out and give good ball pressure so they can’t get it down to the bigger person in the post,” Delp said, “and we box out so they can’t get rebounds, which eliminates the height differential.”
The mismatches have shaped the Vols’ style of play, Ball said.
“That’s the way we are,” he said. “We want to spread the floor and drive it. Sometimes it’s pretty; sometimes it’s not. We have no size, but we gotta find a way to attack the rim.”
Delp, in his first year at SA after moving from Tuscaloosa, and juniors Jawon Yarbrough and Dre Frazier all did just that, tying for the team lead with 11 points apiece. All three did a respectable job guarding taller opponents, too.
“We played hard,” Yarbrough said. “We played tough defense. We kept it under control.”
The game was under control early in the second quarter, when the Vols stretched their lead to 15-6. They led 27-14 at the half and kept the pressure on for a relatively easy victory against what Ball called an “outstanding” Magnolia Heights team — a big first win moving forward.
“It feels great,” Yarbrough said. “We have something to go off of for the rest of the season.”
Magnolia Heights girls 35, Starkville Academy 31
The Starkville Academy girls team erased a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take the lead, but Magnolia Heights answered with one last run to pull off a 35-31 road win.
The Vols trailed 28-16 at the end of the third quarter but started the fourth with 10 straight points. They grabbed a brief lead at 31-30, but the Chiefs’ Bailey Carpenter made a go-ahead layup, the Vols went cold, and Magnolia Heights’ Gracie Mettetal iced the game with three late free throws.
“We had our run in the fourth quarter; we were just down,” Ball said. “We’ve gotta learn to play a little more consistent and avoid those spurts. But as long as we know that we’re gonna play that hard, that’s all a coach can ask.”
Thursday’s game turned out to be chock-full of runs, with the Vols jumping out to an 8-0 lead behind six points from lone senior Meri Laci Archer.
Archer led the team with 14 points despite missing a couple minutes in the second quarter with a minor leg injury.
“She’s been playing hard,” Ball said. “She’s been making all the shots. She’s tough. She’s our senior leader on the team. As she goes, we kind of follow.”
Archer provided a solid presence inside and stretched the floor occasionally, but she gave way to Lillee Alpe in key moments late. Alpe took several attempts at go-ahead 3-pointers, none of which found the mark.
“A 3 goes down, it’s probably different down the stretch,” Ball said. “I think it shows a lot of heart and character, and I think that we’re gonna find a way to not fall down big.”
He said the Chiefs’ run that started in the second quarter — a 16-0 spurt stretching past halftime — was fueled by a 1-3-1 zone and a halfcourt trap, and it made it ultimately too hard for the Vols to come back.
But he was still proud of his players’ effort in making a comeback that energized a raucous Starkville Academy crowd — “probably the loudest we’ve faced in a long time,” Mettetal said.
She did her part in silencing that crowd when she was intentionally fouled twice in the closing seconds after misses by Alpe. The first time, Mettetal made one of two to stretch the lead to two points. The second time, she calmly swished both to give Magnolia Heights a four-point lead and, with 7.7 seconds left, seal a big road win for the Chiefs.
“We didn’t have a very good season last year,” Mettetal said, “so we’re coming out strong.”
Other local scores
The Starkville Christian girls defeated Oak Hill 48-44 on Thursday. Meanwhile, both the Starkville boys and girls fell to Meridian, with the boys falling 55-51 and the girls losing by a score of 84-37.