NEW HOPE — New Hope boys basketball coach Drew McBrayer is well aware how a game can swing on the first possession of the fourth quarter, especially when the contest is teetering in that sensitive range between a nail-biter and a comfortable victory.
So when the Trojans took a nine-point lead into the final eight minutes of Tuesday’s home game against Caledonia, McBrayer knew what was at stake.
“If you can build on it, it makes it a lot tougher on them,” he said. “If you don’t hit that shot and they go down and make one, now it’s six.”
New Hope inbounded the ball to start the period, drove it to the lane and quickly kicked it out to sophomore LJ Hackman for an open 3-pointer from the right corner. Just like that, any illusions of a Caledonia comeback were extinguished as the Trojans (16-2) went on to a 70-57 win.
“It’s always a momentum shift big time in the fourth quarter when you can hit a 3 to stretch the lead out, but it was a really big momentum shift tonight,” McBrayer said.
Hackman’s triple — one of eight 3-pointers the Trojans hit — was pivotal in clinching the win for New Hope in a game where, well …
“We could have played way better,” senior Jorden Edwards admitted.
McBrayer concurred, noting that the Trojans again lacked the energy with which they normally play. That lack of intensity was felt on the defensive end, Edwards said, as New Hope’s communication was often missing, rebounds fell by the wayside and open looks were too easy to come by.
“We’re not getting locked in like we need to and just giving up too many easy baskets,” McBrayer said.
“Thank goodness,” the coach added, “we made some shots.”
Edwards was the centerpiece of the Trojans’ attack Tuesday, burying six of the team’s eight 3s — including four in a row in the second quarter alone. The senior scored 14 of New Hope’s 22 points in the period as the Trojans turned a one-point lead after the first quarter into an 11-point halftime advantage.
“When he’s feeling that stroke, he’s tough to guard,” McBrayer said of Edwards. “If you back up, he can shoot it over the top of you; if you try to get up tight on him, he can go by you and go lay it up. He’s a tough matchup.”
Hackman chipped in 17 points for New Hope. Ty Crowell had eight, and Caleb Parr and Eric Caldwell each had seven.
The Trojans quickly stepped things up after Hackman opened the fourth quarter with a 3, as Edwards followed with a layup and Hackman stole the ball under the basket and put it back in. Crowell added a 3 from the left corner as New Hope’s lead quickly ballooned from nine points to 17.
Caledonia cut into the deficit in the final minutes, most of them with the Trojans’ bench on the court. Senior Jarvis Leigh had 20 points for the Cavaliers, and junior Jeremy Emerson had 14.
Caledonia will head straight into next week’s MHSAA Class 4A, Region 2 tournament in Fulton, but New Hope has one more game before the Region 2-5A tourney: Friday’s home contest with Columbus. The Trojans beat the Falcons 60-39 on Jan. 15, but Edwards said his team has to be more prepared for the rematch.
“We’re ready,” he said. “It’s a district game; we’ve got to be better locked in.”
New Hope girls 59, Caledonia 18
Everyone knows that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
But for the New Hope girls on Tuesday, it was kind of the other way around.
Junior guard Taylor Brownlee said that she and her teammates “want all the smoke” as their regular season winds down and the playoffs are set to begin.
And only with a little fire to begin Tuesday’s game against Caledonia could the Trojans get into good position for what they hope to achieve.
Brownlee provided 12 points in the first quarter alone and finished with a game-high 21 as New Hope scored the game’s first 18 points and ran away with a 59-18 home win.
She helped flip the narrative for the Trojans after several slow starts this season, including in their Dec. 1 road loss to the Cavaliers. That had to change, coach Nick Christy said.
“Someone’s got to create a spark,” Christy and the Trojans told themselves. “We’ve got to create a fire. We’ve got to get it going.”
Brownlee certainly did, following a pair of free throws with a 10-point run — two inside baskets bookended by a pair of 3-pointers.
“I was just pumped up,” she said. “It’s my junior season, and it’s only going to get better from here.”
She ended up outscoring the Cavaliers on the night, taking advantage of the box-and-one and other defensive looks Caledonia deployed on New Hope senior Anna Prince instead. The Cavs had to abandon that scheme when Brownlee showed she was more than capable of filling Prince’s shoes, though.
“When they’re trying to stop one player, she stepped up big and knocked some big shots down for us,” Christy said of the junior.
Prince finished with 13 points, Reed McGlothin had seven, and Madyson McBrayer and Lailah Henderson had six apiece as the Trojans rode a fairly balanced scoring effort to the win.
New Hope’s defense — something the team has tried to hang its hat on — cracked down, too. Caledonia didn’t even get on the board until Allison Pennington sank a 3-pointer with 52 seconds to go in the first quarter, and the Cavs scored just five points in the half as New Hope turned missed shots into layups and converted turnovers into jumpers and 3-pointers.
“We had to play together, be sound on defense,” Brownlee said. “Defense leads to good offense.”
Christy noted that the early lead the Trojans hoped to create came through defense as well as offense as New Hope avenged its loss from two months earlier. The Trojans wanted a spark, and they got one.
“Tonight, we were able to do that,” Christy said.
Prep Girls Basketball
West Lowndes 42, Ethel 33
ETHEL — The West Lowndes girls team beat Ethel 42-33 in Tuesday’s road game.
Nenah Young scored 15 points to lead the Panthers. Averi Sanders added 11.
West Lowndes will play Friday at Noxapater.
Neshoba Central 80, Noxubee County 53
Prep Boys Basketball
West Lowndes 71, Ethel 56
ETHEL — The West Lowndes boys defeated Ethel 71-56 on the road Tuesday.
Decamby Willis scored 25 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and recorded five steals for the Panthers.
Darrell Brooks had 13 points, five rebounds and four steals.
Cameron Ellis had 13 points and three steals, and Josh Franklin had six points, six steals and five rebounds.
Choctaw County def. West Point
Prep Boys Soccer
Center Hill 8, New Hope 1
OLIVE BRANCH — The New Hope boys soccer team saw a stellar season end in the north state championship game Tuesday.
The Trojans suffered an 8-1 loss to Center Hill in Olive Branch. Trey Parnell had the team’s only goal.
New Hope ended its season with a 14-3 record.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.