JACKSON — The New Hope High School boys basketball team found itself in an unfamiliar place Tuesday night.
One of the two teams in Tuesday’s MHSAA Class 5A semifinal at Mississippi Coliseum went on a massive run to start the third quarter. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the Trojans.
“That’s very uncharacteristic of us,” New Hope coach Drew McBrayer said. “Normally we’re on the other side of it coming out of halftime or something like that.”
After taking a 28-23 lead into halftime, the Trojans watched Picayune rattle off basket after basket and stop after stop. The Maroon Tide scored 12 straight points, pulling ahead by seven just three minutes into the quarter.
New Hope’s promising season teetered on the brink.
Just how the Trojans liked it.
LJ Hackman helped New Hope tie the game by the end of the third quarter. Caleb Parr helped the Trojans put it away in the fourth. And New Hope made up for that dynamic Picayune run and then some, punching its ticket to the Class 5A title game with a 62-54 victory.
“It was disappointing the way we came out, but I was proud of the way they responded,” McBrayer said.
The Trojans advanced to play Holmes County Central in the championship contest at 7 p.m. Friday. New Hope last made the final four in 2018, losing to Corinth 63-46.
Ever since, McBrayer and Co. have worked to get back to Jackson. On Tuesday, they made it a step further.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” McBrayer said. “This was our goal: to get to this point all year long. They worked their tails off to get here.”
But the Trojans met their match in the Maroon Tide, with Tuesday’s game tied after both the first and third quarters. New Hope opened up a nine-point lead in the second quarter, but Picayune closed the gap to five at the break.
The Tide rolled over the Trojans to open the third quarter, scoring six straight buckets to go up 33-28. McBrayer called two timeouts during the stretch, able to see his team playing devoid of energy
“We got a little lost there at times,” he said.
But with New Hope down six, Hackman stole the ball on two straight Picayune possessions. The first ended in a fast-break layup; the second concluded with a two-handed dunk.
With eight straight points for the Trojans, the junior had put New Hope back in the contest.
“It gave us a spark and turned the game around,” McBrayer said. “Those two plays right there turned the game around for us.”
Parr tied the game at 42-all with a layup with 27 seconds left in the period and ratcheted up his game in the fourth quarter. He turned an off night into a memorable one with nine points, going 7 of 7 at the free throw line to help put the game away.
His three-point play with 2:07 left gave New Hope essential breathing room down the stretch, putting the Trojans up seven points.
“It’s pretty much what he’s done all year for us in clutch situations,” McBrayer said. “He just comes up big game after game after game in those situations.
Ty Crowell followed with a key layup, and Hackman later outstripped the pack for another breakaway layup to ice things.
New Hope outscored Picayune 20-12 in the fourth quarter, perhaps fueled by McBrayer’s message to his team with the score tied after the third.
“This is ours,” he reminded his players. “We were built for this. We’ve played enough of those close games all year long.”
Hackman said he was excited by Tuesday’s win, but the Maroon Tide’s key run after halftime is reason for reflection.
That is, if the Trojans hope to advance their season one last step.
“We came out playing slow,” Hackman said. “We’ve got to come out playing fast on Friday night.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.