JACKSON — Breaking the huddle, the Starkville High School boys basketball team knew what was on the line.
After a battle all night in Saturday’s MHSAA Class 6A championship game at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson, the Yellow Jackets trailed the Arrows 48-43 with 3 minutes, 7 seconds left when Starkville coach Greg Carter called timeout.
When play resumed, Jackets senior Jarmarvious Phillips put back an offensive rebound, cutting the lead to three and sending the yellow and black-clad side of the stands into a cheer.
Then Clinton junior Kimani Hamilton drove down the lane and dropped in a floater to put the Arrows back up by five.
It was evidence once again that every time the Jackets put Saturday’s game in question, the Arrows had an answer. Ultimately, Starkville (21-3) couldn’t overcome a deep, balanced and talented Clinton team in a 56-51 loss that dashed hopes of a third straight state title.
“We just came up a little short tonight, but I’m super proud of these guys,” Starkville coach Greg Carter said.
The two schools traded blows through three tightly contested quarters at the Big House, with neither school leading by more than two points at the end of each period. The biggest lead to that point was a brief five-point advantage for Starkville late in the third quarter.
But then Clinton proved why it was deserving of its 21-1 final record and No. 1 ranking.
After Phillips opened the fourth quarter with a layup to put the Jackets up 43-39, Clinton scored the next nine points to take a five-point edge.
“Even when they got down, they didn’t get rattled,” Carter said of the Arrows. “They stayed poised and just kept doing what they do.”
Arrows junior Allen Hughes said his team learned a lot about Starkville from beating the Jackets 68-60 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Rumble in the South tournament Jan. 18 in Jackson, and Clinton used that knowledge to its advantage Saturday.
“They weren’t going to go away,” Hughes said. “They were going to keep coming. We were going to have to keep playing with them.”
An and-one layup by Hughes put the Arrows ahead with roughly five minutes left, and Jeremiah Foster finished a third-chance shot before Hamilton’s layup a couple minutes later put Clinton up by five. Carter lamented his team’s misses inside and inability to get on the defensive glass in the final minutes.
“They finished around the basket; when they missed, they were getting offensive rebounds,” Carter said. “They killed us on the boards in that fourth quarter. When we had opportunities around the basket, we couldn’t finish them.”
The 48-43 Clinton lead proved to be too big an advantage for Starkville to overcome. The Jackets first got within two points on Eric Green’s and-one layup with 26.1 seconds to go, but Hughes made both of his free throws with 12.8 remaining to give Clinton a two-possession lead.
Foster then blocked Starkville’s Makhi Myles at the other end before Myles was fouled, splitting two free throws with 3.7 left. Clinton closed out the game at the line as Green’s 3 from three-quarter court glanced off the rim.
It was Clinton’s fourth title in school history and its first since 1993. Starkville was denied its sixth state championship after wins in 2019 and 2020, but Carter praised his program’s ability to make it back to the finals with vastly different rosters each year.
“It’s just something about the city of Starkville,” Carter said. “These guys compete.”
Carter said the Jackets weren’t at their best at the beginning of the year, coasting on their talent rather than playing well as a team. But around mid-January, something changed: The Jackets played harder, rebounded better and defended more skillfully.
And despite the loss, the Starkville coach saw that same improvement on the court Saturday as the Jackets’ season ended in heartbreak in Jackson.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Carter said. “We grew up a lot this year.”
Clinton Christian Academy 56, Starkville Academy 47, MAIS overall tournament quarterfinal
MADISON — The Starkville Academy boys’ season ended Saturday with a 56-47 loss to Clinton Christian Academy in the quarterfinal round of the MAIS overall tournament at Madison-Ridgeland Academy.
The Vols beat Greenville St. Joseph in the first round Wednesday.
Starkville Academy lost to Hartfield Academy in the MAIS Class 4A championship on Feb. 27.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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