STARKVILLE — Russ Whiteside’s Friday was filled with even more basketball than usual.
The Heritage Academy boys basketball coach was on the sidelines for three consecutive games at Starkville Academy, but none was more dramatic than the last one.
Xzavier Webber’s 3-point shot bounded around the rim and fell in with 1 minute, 4 seconds left to give the Patriots the lead for good in a 54-51 victory over the Volunteers in Starkville.
“I usually coach the junior high and the high school boys, and then our girls coach (Moe Reed) has COVID, so I had to fill in for her,” Whiteside said. “It’s been a long day.”
Perhaps it was fitting that Webber, an eighth-grader who hit just two baskets all game — both from downtown — because several players took turns playing key roles. Sophomore Whit Altmeyer, for example, was held scoreless during the first half yet finished with a team-high 13 points.
Junior Mack Howard was right behind with 11, largely because of his hard work on the offensive boards; 7 points came on putbacks and fouls on offensive rebounds.
“That’s kind of been what this team’s done,” Whiteside said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can score at different times, and then when they’re helping down on Trey (Naugher) in the post, we feel like we’ve got some guys who can create their own shots when we kick it out from the post.”
It was Naugher who gave the Patriots their first lead of the game on a nice move down low with 1:53 left in the third quarter. The lead then changed hands several times during the fourth quarter, with neither team going up by more than three the rest of the way.
The Volunteers bolted to a 9-0 lead with Reese Jackson dominating the opening minutes. Jackson, who totaled 13 points, scored seven of those early points and assisted on a layup by Rett Keenum. Although the Patriots quickly cut the lead to two, they could not pull even during the first half, with the Vols extending the lead back to nine before settling for a 26-22 halftime edge.
“We did play from behind the whole game, but we weren’t far behind,” Whiteside said. “I felt like the whole game it was a matter of time before somebody would step up and make some shots.
“Whit had a little stretch there in the second half where he made some shots that really helped us.”
Altmeyer hit two 3-point shots, two 2-point shots and 3 of 4 free throws during the second half after not scoring during the first.
The Volunteers kept pace after the Patriots (14-3) finally seized the lead largely thanks to senior Jarius Jordan. Jordan scored 7 of his game-high 16 points during the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer from the corner that cut the Heritage lead to 52-51 with 19.5 seconds left. Altmeyer then made both ends of a one-and-one before three wild attempts at a tying 3-point shot didn’t come close for the Vols.
“Starkville played really hard,” Whiteside said. “I thought they had a really good game plan that caused us a lot of trouble early in the game, taking us out of what we wanted to do.”
And, despite the slow start, the Patriots never allowed the Vols (13-6) to take a lead greater than the early 9-0 advantage.
“A lot of times during the game when things weren’t going real good, they were still playing with tremendous effort, and that’s what I love about them,” Whiteside said of his team, which includes just two seniors.
“Both teams were playing really hard,” Whiteside continued. “Coach (Andrew) Howell does a great job with them, and the staff did a great job in his absence, and I thought they played really hard.”
Sophomore Jack Ketchum scored 8 points for Heritage, while Naugher and Collin Adair each finished with 7. Senior George Delp scored 9 points for Starkville Academy.
And despite being totally immersed in back-to-back-to-back games, Whiteside didn’t lose sight of how things looked from the bleachers.
“From a fan’s perspective, it was fun to watch,” he said.