Hattiesburg sweeps Wayne County on hardwoodBy CAMAL PETRO,
HATTIESBURG – Coming off its Holiday Tournament and the New Year, the Hattiesburg Tigers swept Wayne County in their final tune-up game before region play starts next Tuesday.
The boys earned a 44-37 win in the nightcap, while the Lady Tigers used a dominant defensive performance to beat the Lady War Eagles 57-19. Now, the two teams turn their attention to next Tuesday’s region contest with Picayune.
After a quick back and forth to start the game, Hattiesburg began to get a little separation late in the first quarter. The Tigers had five different players score the 11 first-quarter points, and they ended the frame on an 8-0 run that pushed to 10-0 early in the second quarter.
“They were fresh out of the box, they understood what they had to do and they were making shots and playing good defense,” Hattiesburg coach Ernie Watson said of his players’ quick start. “I told them to play good defense and get rebounds and we’ll be fine. That’s what they did in the first half.”
With an 11-5 lead after the first, Hattiesburg took a 13-5 advantage before the War Eagles cut it to a three-point lead late in the second.
After a couple of free throws from Wayne County with 3 seconds left in the half, which cut the Hattiesburg lead to 19-16, senior Matias Pruitt was fouled with 0.3 seconds left on the clock.
He’d hit both free throws to take the 21-16 lead into the break.
In the third quarter, Hattiesburg couldn’t close the door on Wayne County, but the visitors couldn’t take advantage of opportunities to close the gap either. The Tigers pushed their lead to 28-19 midway through the quarter, thanks to a couple of baskets by senior Jaquan Tenner but the War Eagles cut it to 28-22.
Wayne County went the free throw line four times by the halfway point of the third, but it went 1-or-2 on all four trips, leaving four points at the charity stripe.
Tenner led the Tigers in scoring with 12 points.
After allowing Wayne County to cut the lead to six points, Hattiesburg finished the third strong with six straight points to extend its lead to 34-22 entering the final eight minutes.
“That right there is a sign of a good team,” Watson said. “Even though we’re not playing well, coming back from a vacation and not in a routine, they did a good job of understanding that with less than four minutes on the clock, all we had to do was let them chase us. When they did that, we opened up the court and got easy baskets.”
Hattiesburg had to make its free throws in the fourth quarter in order to hold the lead, and that’s something Watson isn’t too confident about normally. But, his team made 4-of-5 baskets from the free throw line with less than two minutes to play to keep Wayne County at bay.
The War Eagles cut the fourth-quarter lead to 37-32, but a combination of senior Shannadoah Sandifer, senior Will Robinson and Pruitt, the Tigers iced the game at the line.
“We’ve been struggling with free throws all year. I don’t know what our problem is,” Watson said. “I’m just glad down at the end we made them. When we play Wayne County, it’s always a grind and always a low scoring game.
Lady Tigers 57, Wayne County 19: The Lady Tigers used a stiff defense and a consistent offensive game plan to grab the early lead over Wayne County. On the offensive side of the court, Hattiesburg gave the ball to sophomore Melyia Grayson down low on nearly every set play early on, which turned into six first-quarter points.
With the 10-4 lead and two minutes remaining in the opening frame, Grayson committed her third foul and was forced to sit until midway through the third quarter. Hattiesburg ended the first with a 13-4 lead, as all four of Wayne County’s points came off free throws.
“We always want to start on the inside and get our post players involved,” Lady Tigers head coach Caronica Jackson said. “On the upside with Melyia going out, it forced (sophomores) Chaise Stinson and Jaelah Gray to come in and get some big minutes because we’ll need them down the road.”
Junior Kenedi Walker led the scoring for the Lady Tigers to help secure a 26-14 lead by halftime. She even threw up a heat-check from the left side at the 3:30 mark after scoring the team’s first seven points of the quarter. She began the quarter with a quick basket, a jumper and an old-fashion three-point play to give Hattiesburg a 20-10 lead midway through the second.
She finished with a game-high 17 points.
Junior Ty Vance added a couple of baskets to close out the half with the 12-point lead.
When the Lady Tigers returned to the court in the second half, it was Stinson’s turn to get hot. She began the frame with eight straight points to push the Hattiesburg lead to 34-15, which was the beginning of a 16-0 run to end the quarter.
“I told Chaise that (senior) Terralyn (Ulmer) should have 10 assists because we have great passes on the inside and she wasn’t finishing,” Jackson said of her talk with Stinson at halftime. “We talked about balancing and feed-and-finish, and she came out more focused and finished for us in the third quarter.”
The highlight of the game came in the third quarter when senior Jamya Harrell passed the ball through a defender’s legs to Walker, who finished for an easy layup.
Senior Terralyn Ulmer, Walker and Vance added buckets to extend the lead to 44-15 by the time the fourth quarter began. The 22-0 scoring run ended at the 4:40 mark in the fourth with Hattiesburg leading 50-17.
Wayne County only had four field goals in the game, which surprised Jackson.
“Oh, really? That is a very good thing because that’s actually what we’ve been focusing on in practice,” Jackson said when she first heard the statistic. “That is a great accomplishment from our girls.”